PRESTON – At a Town Meeting, local officials and farmers discussed expanding the current tax exemption for farm equipment and a symbolic local “Right to Farm” law. Both were passed by show of hands.
Gary Bishkek, chairman of the Preston Conservation and Agriculture Commission, said at a town meeting Thursday night that the goal of the ordinances is to preserve and preserve Preston’s identity as a “breadbasket community” rather than a bedroom community.
“It is a unique city with an agricultural history and tradition that includes some of the best Holstein genetics in the country, the best vegetables and tomatoes you can get anywhere, yoghurt, dairy products, beef, pork, poultry, wine, sheep, and Christmas.” “. “Trees and hay to feed livestock all over southern Connecticut,” Bishek said. “And that’s what this is trying to help preserve.”
Connecticut has had a law that exempts the minimum value of farm equipment from property taxes since 1959. The law set a threshold of $100,000 of assessed value in 1985, and has allowed municipalities to offer exemptions up to $200,000 of assessed value since 2001.
For a smaller farm, foregoing as much as $100,000 in equipment could be a lot, Connecticut Farm Bureau Director Joanne Nichols told the CT Examiner. But since a single tractor can now be valued at more than $250,000, the law hasn’t kept up with current costs.
Nichols said the cost of farm equipment has gotten to the point where she believes the exemption should be expanded statewide.
But for now, cities can choose on their own to expand the exemption to $200,000, a little help that could go a long way for Connecticut farms that operate on thin profit margins, she said. Depending on their share, 26 cities have agreed to the extended waiver, including Preston.
Linwood Crary, a fifth-generation farmer in Preston, said the list price for a new hay baler was $7,400 in 1980. Today, a similar hay baler costs $34,400 — more than four times that amount.
Presenting data from the city assessor, Crary said there are 26 property owners with farm equipment in Preston, with a total value of $1.36 million. He said nine of those owners had farm equipment worth more than $50,000.
If passed today, expanding the exemption to $200,000 would affect four property owners, including one owner who owns $201,730 worth of equipment. That and the other five are just a few pieces of equipment, or just one small tractor, Karari said, far from exceeding the $100,000 limit.
“Gone are the days of the $100,000 farm machinery (tax break) having a huge impact on farmers’ tax bill,” Nichols said.
Crary said Preston was a “cow town” when he was growing up. In 1984, he said, there were 15 dairy farms, showing a map of the locations of each farm in Preston. But because the price of milk hasn’t kept up with the costs of running a small dairy farm, he said only two of the fifteen dairies are still active.
“Connecticut is a very difficult state to do business in, especially in agriculture,” Nichols said. “We have astronomical input costs for farmers across the country, but in Connecticut we also have higher labor and transportation costs, so anything the city can do to mitigate some of the expenses is a help.”
Resident data showed the expanded exemption would take $223,580 from the city’s grand list, Karary said, resulting in revenue of about $5,113 at Preston’s current mill rate. He said 400 respondents to a recent Planning and Zoning Commission survey overwhelmingly said it was the rusticity and ‘country living’ that they liked most about Preston – and the exemption is a small cost to maintain that.
“That’s why exemptions like this are important,” Karari said. “Will it keep people out of work? No, maybe an extra $1,000 or $2,000 a year. But in general it will help everyone.”
The Right to Farm Act already approved in Preston mirrors the statewide Right to Farm Act passed by Connecticut in 1981 as insurance for farms in rural areas of the state that were seeing an influx of residents unaccustomed to the smells and noise that came with farming.
The law protects farmers who follow acceptable farming practices from lawsuits related to five nuisances: odors, noise, dust, chemical use, and water pollution — with the exception of contamination of the drinking water supply.
“It gives the Commissioner of Agriculture full jurisdiction when these types of issues arise to decide whether a farmer is following generally accepted farming practices,” Nichols said.
All 169 cities and towns are covered by state law, but according to Nichols’ count, 31 towns have issued their own right-to-farm ordinances. The city’s ordinances are more symbolic than practical. They are a “policy statement” from the city, Nichols said, reaffirming that the city welcomes agriculture.
“I think the most important thing the ordinance does, if it’s written properly to reflect state law, is remind the municipality of state law that gets thrown in there whenever an issue arises with one of the five nuisances,” Nicholls said. . “The land-use officials will say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, we have the Right to Farm Act, and let me read that before I go any further.'”
Karari said that he had a complaint about his farm because of the problem of flies after spreading manure in a field. Not sure where to go with the complaint, they contacted UConn Extension, who sent a representative to look into it.
Karari said the extension representative said everything was fine, but it was not clear how the matter should have been handled. He said the Right to Farm Act makes it clear that if someone contacts the town with a complaint, they will direct it to the state commissioner of agriculture.
The right to farm is not a “jail-free card” for farmers, Nichols said. They still have to follow local land use regulations, wetland laws, and agricultural regulations. Mostly, the decree sends a message to society.
People who are not from agricultural areas may be drawn to rural towns because of the quiet, open landscapes, but don’t expect what the city will smell like when farmers spread manure, or they sometimes share the road with tractors,” Nichols said. On the other hand, it can be the right city. The farm serves as an attraction for someone who sees benefits in living near farms.
“As we receive more and more pressure on our farms and farmlands across the state from residential development, for someone who might be considering buying a home in a farming community,[says the Right to Farm Act]we must recognize that we respect and support our farms,” Nichols said.