By: JEFFREY J. SERUM & MARY S. RANUM
Minnesota’s Agricultural Property Tax Law, codified at Minnesota Statute 273.111 and commonly known as the Green Acres Program, has existed since the 1960s. A key purpose of the Green Acres Program is to reduce urban sprawl by assessing certain land based upon its agricultural value and deferring higher property taxes attributable to the land’s value if it were assessed as commercial or residential.
Green Acres property is assessed at both an actual market value and an agricultural value. Property taxes are calculated on both values, but are paid on the lower agricultural value until the property is sold or no longer qualifies for the Green Acres Program. Once the property is sold or no longer qualifies for the Green Acres Program, the deferred tax will be due for the immediate prior three years on the portion sold or no longer qualifying. Special assessments are also deferred while a property qualifies for the Green Acres Program. Once the property is sold or no longer qualifies for the program, all deferred special assessments become due and payable.
In 2008, the Minnesota Legislature made sweeping changes to the Green Acres Program. One of the most controversial changes made certain non-productive agricultural land ineligible for the program. This change outraged some landowners, and fears mounted that landowners would convert wooded areas and wetlands into tillable crop acreage. In response to this and other problems created by the 2008 legislation, the Minnesota Legislature again amended the Green Acres Program in 2009. This article answers several questions about the cumulative effect of these changes to the Green Acres Program.
What land now qualifies for the Green Acres Program?
Commencing with the 2009 assessment for taxes payable in 2010, only land that the assessor classifies as “class 2a” agricultural land will be eligible for the Green Acres Program. Class 2a agricultural land must be primarily devoted to agricultural production and be at least 10 acres in size. The 2008 legislative changes required the assessor to subjectively determine what land qualified as class 2a agricultural land. The 2009 legislation amends the definition of class 2a agricultural land in such a manner that an assessor must (as opposed to may, in the 2008 legislation) classify certain class 2b non-productive rural vacant land as class 2a agricultural land if: (i) the land is interspersed with class 2a agricultural land; (ii) the land is impractical for the assessor to value separately from the rest of the property; or (iii) the land is unlikely to be able to be sold separately from the rest of the property. Examples include sloughs, wooded wind shelters, acreage abutting ditches, and ravines.
The 2009 legislation allows certain land enrolled in the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve Program, the federal Conservation Reserve Program, or a similar state or federal conservation program to qualify for the Green Acres Program if the land was in agricultural use before enrollment. Land enrolled in the RIM Reserve Program will not qualify for the Green Acres Program if it is subject to a perpetual easement.
Are there any changes as to who may participate in the Green Acres Program?
The 2009 legislative changes provide that any entity in which (i) a majority of the members, partners, or shareholders are related, and (ii) at least one of the members, partners, or shareholders either resides on the land or actively operates the land, may own land enrolled in the Green Acres Program. Previously, many limited liability entities were not eligible to own land in the Green Acres Program.
Will land that no longer meets the Green Acres Program requirements be grandfathered?
Class 2b non-productive rural vacant land currently enrolled in the Green Acres Program that qualified for the Green Acres Program prior to 2008 will be grandfathered until the 2013 assessment. Commencing with the 2013 assessment, the grandfathered land will be removed from the Green Acres Program and deferred taxes for the then-current assessment year and the two previous years will be collected.
If grandfathered class 2b land is sold, transferred, or subdivided during this grace period, the land must satisfy the current Green Acres Program requirements created by the 2008 and 2009 legislation to remain eligible for the Green Acres Program. If it does not qualify, deferred taxes will be collected. Certain conveyances, however, such as transfers to a child or transfers to a trust created by the landowner that do not alter the landowner’s beneficial interest in the land, will not affect the status of grandfathered land.
Is there an option to withdraw the land from the Green Acres Program without penalty?
Land currently in the Green Acres Program that no longer qualifies as such due to the 2008 or 2009 legislative changes can be withdrawn from the Green Acres Program prior to August 16, 2010, with no requirement to pay the deferred taxes.
What is the new Rural Preserve Property Tax Program?
Despite the 2009 legislative amendments, some land that historically qualified for the Green Acres Program will no longer be eligible. Examples include larger tracts of non-tillable acreage, such as wooded areas, that can be separated from an agricultural operation and sold separately. To account for some of these lands, the 2009 legislation created the Rural Preserve Property Tax Program to provide favorable assessment to certain lands that no longer qualify for the Green Acres Program. There is no requirement to pay deferred taxes on land that is converted from the Green Acres Program to the new Rural Preserve Property Tax Program.
To qualify for the Rural Preserve Property Tax Program, a parcel must be at least 10 acres in size and the owner must commit to enroll the parcel in a conservation management plan for a period of not less than 10 years. The conservation management plan must be approved by the soil and water conservation district and provide a framework for site-specific healthy, productive, and sustainable conservation resources. The landowner must sign a covenant agreement that is recorded in the land records in the county where the land is located. This program will be available for the 2011 assessment year, with taxes payable in 2012. If an owner removes land from the Rural Preserve Property Tax Program, it is subject to the same three-year deferred taxes requirement as land enrolled in the Green Acres Program.
Rural landowners should familiarize themselves with the 2008 and 2009 changes to the Green Acres Program to determine whether their current Green Acres status will be affected.