Idaho farm groups support proposed state legislation that would allow production-agriculture ground to be annexed only if the landowner consents in writing.

Under House Bill 25, parcels that are 5 acres or larger and “actively devoted to agriculture” as defined by Idaho Code could be annexed only with the landowner’s express written permission. Such written permission would be required even if the farmland is bounded on all sides by city land.

The 5-acre provision already appears in Idaho Code in reference to agricultural ground. State law provides several ways agricultural land can qualify for a reduced property tax rate, and operating on 5 contiguous acres is among them. Last year, a bill that was similar but lacked the 5-acre minimum did not pass. Idaho allows annexation of up to 100 parcels without landowner consent if the ground is surrounded by city land.

The Idaho House of Representatives on Jan. 29 passed the bill unanimously with one member absent. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, sponsored the bill.

Moyle, a farmer, said it’s unfair and unwise for cities to force-annex land, “but especially ag ground that requires no city services for the most part” such as libraries, police, and municipal sewer and water service.

He said such annexations have occurred recently in Idaho Falls and northwest Boise, where he knows a farmer who paid about 40 percent more in property taxes following annexation and received no meaningful benefit. Middleton last year backed off a forced-annexation plan, the Idaho Press reported.

Moyle said force-annexing farmland can increase the farmer’s cost to a point that selling ground for development becomes the only viable option. Cities have used annexation to increase budgets without a public vote, he said.

The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation supports the bill, Governmental Affairs Director Russ Hendricks said.

Annexation adds to the farmer’s tax burden, and a city “is not going to run utilities, roads and other services through the farmland,” he said.

Often, farmland contemplated for annexation has been self-sufficient as production-agriculture ground for many years, Hendricks said.

“At least this way, under House Bill 25, the landowner has the option” to move ahead with an annexation or refuse it, he said.

Benjamin Kelly of Food Producers of Idaho said the state’s Right to Farm Act includes protections for farming operations where there is encroachment around them.

House Bill 25 in the short term could keep farmers’ tax burdens from increasing, and over time may help reduce issues related to urban and suburban encroachment, he said.

Jerry Mason, counsel for the Association of Idaho Cities, said the association does not object to House Bill 25, though the group suggested clarifications that were not included. AIC wanted to make sure prior annexation agreements landowners struck with cities were honored.

“The future of Idaho cities isn’t in annexing agricultural land,” he said. Increased urbanization within existing city boundaries will be a bigger driver in the long run, and “agriculture is generally what happens outside of cities. Cities depend on agriculture just like we all do.”

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