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SLEDGER: FAKE-FARMER LAW NEEDS TEETH

A recently enacted state law aimed at culling ‘fake farmer‘ landowners “will eventually give local tax officials the power to force out fakers,” but doesn’t go far enough, the Star-Ledger says in an editorial published Friday.

Championed by state Senator and Red Bank resident Jen Beck – who won her seat in 2007 after a battling an opponent she tagged as a fake farmer – the reform bill signed by Governor Chris Christie this month goes too easy on wealthy individuals, developers and owners of office parks who took advantage of the old law to duck some $95 million a year in local taxes, the Sledger says.

From the Sledger:

This law will trigger a package of rules, due in 2014, that will define who’s a farmer and who isn’t, which Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) says is the law’s real reform. Those rules, she insists, will ensure only legitimate, working farmers will qualify. Landowners who do bare-bones “farming” for cut-rate property taxes will be cut out.

The new law does have flaws.

The new income threshold is $1,000 a year. That doesn’t even keep up with post-1964 inflation. Raising it to $10,000, which is the level in New York, will eliminate many of the estates and offices, which aren’t likely to sell out to condo developers once their discounts disappear.

Landowners can still get tax breaks for selling $500 worth of firewood a year, an often-abused rule.

Also untouched: Farmers who claim the exemption but later sell their property to a developer are penalized with a “rollback” — three years’ full property taxes. That encourages developers to buy land and wait, often hiring a freelance farmer while the company pays minimal property taxes. Doubling the penalty — a six-year rollback, at least — would discourage land-banking and raise millions a year for other preservation programs.

That would mean amending the state constitution. That should be Beck’s next move.

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