S.311 – An Act Relating to the Use Value Appraisal Program
Streamlines the current use program. The bill relaxes a paperwork requirement for listers by eliminating the requirement they notify landowners every time there is a nominal change in the use value rate set by the current use advisory board; it reduces the burden that is placed on county foresters for inspecting parcels by reducing the frequency of mandatory parcel visits from every 5 years to every 10 years.
Increases flexibility to enroll sensitive ecological areas. The bill increases flexibility to enroll land that has sensitive ecological areas, including wetlands, rare natural communities, and potentially other areas such as critical wildlife habitat, vernal pools (temporary standing bodies of water that, because they have no fish, allow amphibians like salamanders and insects to grow) and riparian buffers (strips of land along streams or lakes where trees and bushes are allowed to grow – these buffers keep waterways clean of pollution and keep them cool and shady, which is necessary for trout, for instance). The Commissioner of Forest, Parks and Recreation in partnership with the Nongame and Natural Heritage Program, will determine which ecological areas can be enrolled after collecting public input. The Commissioner shall report back to the legislature on changes to the eligibility standards by January 15, 2009.
The bill also allows municipalities that own land in another town to be able to enroll that land in the current use program. Some towns own pieces of land in another town as town forests or as areas to protect drinking water, such as reservoirs. This would allow those towns to enroll these parcels in current use.
Increases the fee to enroll parcels. The bill adds a new enrollment fee of $30 to help absorb the administrative costs of processing new applications and overseeing the enrollment of parcels.
Requires the state to move toward electronic coordination. The bill requires state agencies to develop a plan to move ahead with the comprehensive electronic coordination of the program. The state Department of Information and Innovation is required to submit a report to the legislature by January 15, 2009. The report will outline what additional funds are needed to accomplish the coordination by July 1, 2010.
The bill requires the state, with the help of other stakeholders, to develop an outreach and education program to address misperceptions about the current use program. The bill also requires the development of a plan to address the use of the Geographic Information System in the program; whether there should be different valuations based on the use of the land, or restrictions on the use, including hunting, fishing, other recreational activities and posting; whether conserved parcels managed for ecological purposes should be enrolled in the program; and whether the definition should enable the enrollment of farm buildings of animal and crop operations that do not currently qualify for the program.
Analysis: This bill makes targeted improvements to the popular property tax equity program. The bill had wide support from a variety of interests. It represented the work of a broad stakeholder group that studied the program and came up with recommendations that are addressed in the legislation. The ecological areas component of the bill is one of several, logical, targeted adjustments to the program to ensure it continues to meet its goals. The bill passed overwhelmingly in both the Senate and the House. The Governor is expected to sign the bill.
Read the full bill by searching for S.311 here.
In the end, both the Senate and the House unanimously supported the bill.