Farmland reassessment spurs citizens’ petition
DEERFIELD — A group of Deerfield landowners are asking the local Board of Assessors to use the state land value rates for farmland instead of the much higher proposed town rates.
On Sept. 25, the local assessors sent out the preliminary assessments for land for fiscal year 2014 to Chapter 61A taxpayers. Deerfield’s preliminary values are much higher than the state’s and the current values.
For example, for land harvesting vegetables, tobacco and sod, the cost per acre was $3,000 in 2013. The proposed value for 2014, however, doubles to $6,100. The state number is $802.
A total 156 people have signed the citizens’ petition.
Petitioners are requesting the town to vote to direct the Board of Assessors to use the Chapter 61A land value rates recommended by the state for assessing the agricultural and open space lands in town.
The petition is the last article on Monday’s 22-article special town meeting agenda, and the article is nonbinding. The special town meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Frontier Regional School. If the meeting extends too long, it will continue on Tuesday at the school.
The local assessors submitted their proposed rates for land values to the state Department of Revenue, but the state did not approve the proposed rates. The town and state are now working to find a balance of what the state and local assessors feel is appropriate for land value rates.
“Part of our job is to assess the value based on our judgment,” said Board of Assessors Chairman Bruce St. Peters. “We feel (the state) values are low.”
St. Peters declined to explain how the local board determined the assessments for the town’s lands when asked by a Recorder reporter.
The state’s Chapter 61A allows landowners to pay taxes on land based on its value as farmland, not its value for developed uses. The program is designed to tax the farmland at a lower rate.
Landowners opt to put their land into the program. And the town is given the right of first refusal if the land ever goes up for sale. Each crop has a different value assigned by the state Farmland Valuation Advisory Commission. The commission takes many factors into consideration, including the value of the crop and land and what people can make on the property.
While most towns across the commonwealth accept the state values, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Richard Bonanno said, towns do have the right to ask to not use the state’s rates.
“Deerfield is the only town in the state that has done this,” Bonanno said. “I don’t understand why they’re doing this. They need to assess the economic impact on what they’re doing to farmers. I don’t feel it’s in the best interest of its farmers.”
The values for next year for Deerfield are not set in stone as the state and town negotiate. With the delay, tax bills most likely won’t be sent out until December, St. Peters told the Board of Selectmen at this week’s meeting.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.