Use-Value Assessment of Rural Land in the United States
State and local governments in this country have adopted a number of policies to regulate the conversion of rural land to developed uses. One of the most significant and least understood is preferential assessment of rural land under the real property tax, often called use-value assessment (UVA) or current-use assessment. This book explains and analyzes the critical questions raised by this fiscal tool for farmland preservation.
Under UVA, the assessments of various parcels of land within a given state may vary tremendously from property to property. A tract that is zoned residential with access to a turnpike might be assessed at $7,865 per acre. In the very same neighborhood, though, an even larger tract of vacant land might be assessed at a mere $127 per acre, which is far below the market value.
How can there be such dramatic differences in the assessment of land values within the same community or neighborhood? Has the town assessor failed to treat property owners fairly and equally, as required by state law? Not at all. Nearly all states across the country permit, and even require, local assessors to value some parcels of undeveloped land far below their fair market values for the purpose of levying local property taxes.
Despite their stated purpose of preserving rural lands from urban development, UVA programs can have unintended negative consequences. One is erosion of the legal and constitutional principle of uniformity of taxation; another is shifting of the local tax burden to other property owners, perhaps in a regressive manner. Occasionally UVA programs generate political controversy and even legislative action concerning “fake farmers” who enjoy low property tax bills, but whose land might only be used to sell firewood or Christmas trees to a few friends and neighbors.
This volume explains the origins, key features, impacts, and flaws of use-value assessment programs across the United States. It describes in detail the process and characteristics of UVA programs in 44 states and recommends reforms. This book serves as a road map for public officials, scholars, and journalists concerned with agricultural taxation and land use issues.
This book is also the basis for a Policy Focus Report published in 2015.