SE Idaho farmers plan to appeal new assessments
By SEAN ELLIS
Many farmers in Idaho's Bannock County are suffering from sticker shock after discovering the tax assessments on their farmland have increased dramatically.
The increases are as high as 90 percent for dry farmland, and a mini-revolt by farmers resulted in the county assessor calling a meeting to explain the reasoning behind them.
"I'm damn disgusted," said Downey farmer Dale Koester, who is facing a 90 percent increase in the assessed value of his land. "It's a mighty big jump."
Koester was one of about 150 farmers from this county in southeastern Idaho who packed the Lava Hot Springs Senior Center recently to hear the county assessor and other local officials explain the reason for the increases.
"We had a lot of upset people there," said Bannock County Farm Bureau President Jim Guthrie Sr., who faces a 15 percent increase and, like many farmers, plans to appeal his tax assessment.
The agriculture ground facing the biggest increase is non-irrigated farmland, listed officially as category 3 farmland. Dave Packer, Bannock County's new assessor, said the steep increases are necessary because the land hadn't been re-assessed in at least seven years.
"If they had category 3 land, they hadn't been assessed in seven or eight years," he said. "Their assessments should have been going up a little bit each year."
State law requires ag land to be reassessed at least every five years and county assessors have the option of reassessing it every one, two, three, four or five years.
Former county assessor Jo Lynn Anderson said her office was definitely re-valuing category 3 land on a regular basis, but it's possible a computer error wasn't discovered in the auditing process. If that happened, she adds, it certainly wasn't intentional.
"We weren't intentionally skipping anybody. Goodness' sakes," she said. "If I did something wrong, I'll take the blame. But I didn't do anything intentionally wrong on agriculture land and if something was missed, it was a mistake."
Many farmers are appealing their assessments, and Packer said any category 3 land that isn't being used to grow crops will be moved to category 5 (dry grazing land), which means the assessments on that ground won't go up as much.
John Chidester, the Blackfoot Realtor Bannock County has hired annually to assess farmland values, said category 3 land can be moved to category 5 if it is no longer being farmed and is not in a federal program such as the Conservation Reserve Program.
Guthrie said much of the land facing the huge increases is in CRP and a lot of those farmers are retired and don't have the machinery necessary to get back into raising crops.
Packer said those farmers with acres enrolled in CRP are getting taxed at $2 an acre. A 90 percent increase in their land's value means they will be paying $3.75 an acre.
Chidester said all ag ground in the county has increased, but category 3 land has increased the most. The value of irrigated cropland rose by about 35 percent on average, he said, but the increases were partially offset by higher expenses, such as electricity, that dry land farming doesn't have.
Ironically, Chidester said, if the land values had been raised incrementally, farmers would have paid more taxes overall because they would have been paying them on an increased value for a longer time.
But Koester said the massive increases are hard to stomach and farmers would have preferred they be phased in.
"He could have raised it 10 to 15 percent over a period of years and he wouldn't have got any big static over it," Koester said. "It's such a big jump in one year."
Packer said he discovered a problem that needed to be fixed and the longer it went on, the worse it would have gotten. He's also permanently fixing the problem by ensuring the land is indexed on a regular basis.
"We saw we had a problem, got after it and came up with a solution for most people," he said.