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Preferential Assessment for Open Space

Jeffrey O. Sundberg

July 2013, English

Land with little or limited development, often referred to as open space, can provide environmental and amenity benefits to society. Twenty-three states offer an incentive to keep land open in the form of preferential assessment, which reduces property taxes on qualifying parcels. This reduction in revenue is a form of property tax expenditure. The programs vary in many ways, including the amount of expenditure, the conditions needed to qualify, and the penalty for developing the land after receiving the preferential assessment. This review examines some of these differences, and argues that while the tax expenditure is relatively easy to justify on equity grounds, the efficiency of the programs is difficult to assess. A set of calculations using data from Georgia finds that the tax expenditure ranges between 0.003% and 0.2% of the tax levy for different taxing districts.