Ag board asks about tax breaks for farmers

KNOX — Some farmers in Albany County are concerned because their fire-district taxes are higher than other taxes since local fire districts don’t offer agricultural exemptions.

This led John O’Pezio, a Knox resident who represents agribusiness as a member on the Albany County Farmland Protection Board, to ask the Knox assessor what the implications of applying the exemption would be so he could report back to the county board.

Knox has six farmers and 143 property owners with agricultural exemptions, according to Russell Pokorny, the town’s assessor.

“In our town, for example, the fire tax is slightly more than the combined town and highway tax,” O’Pezio said Tuesday. “And farmers, really,…the reason that farmers discontinue farming is most often economic. And they’re subjected to large tax burdens because they have very large parcels of property.”

Agricultural tax exemptions are for property owners using their land for farming, or leasing it for farming, but they are applied only to town, highway, and county taxes. O’Pezio noted state law allows for fire districts to adopt resolutions applying agricultural exemptions to fire district taxes.

“As far as we know, nobody in Albany County does allow that ag exemption to extend to fire departments,” said Pokorny.

Fire district budgets are subjected to the 2-percent levy cap. The most recent increase for the Knox district was 1.97 percent. Some Knox properties pay taxes in the Berne Fire District, since fire districts don’t follow town lines.

“We’re going to talk to the lawyer this week, and then we’ll hopefully be prepared to discuss it next meeting,” said Dana Sherman, chairman of the board of five commissioners for the Knox Fire District.

Sherman and Frank Fuss, the district’s secretary, approached the town board at its April meeting after reading an e-mail from O’Pezio, forwarded to them by Pokorny.

The Knox Fire District’s attorney, William Young, told The Enterprise that none of the districts represented by his firm, Young, Fenton, Kelsey & Brown, P.C., have approached him for a resolution to use the agricultural exemption. His firm represents the State Association of Fire Districts.

In Clinton County, Young said, a supervisor was in favor of such a resolution and the fire commissioners wondered whether it was mandatory.

“There was a question of who has the authority to do it and, at the end of the day, the board of commissioners has the authority,” said Young.

Sherman and Fuss were assured by the Knox Town Board the $266,495 fire district budget would remain intact. Any fire-district tax burden for exempted farmers would be distributed among the property owners without it.

“It looks to me like the average agriculture exemption would benefit by about $70 a year, but all of the other properties in town would increase by about $10 a year,” said Pokorny.

O’Pezio owns a livestock fencing business and has an agricultural exemption on land he leases to farmers. He noted that, in a more rural area, where more farming properties have exemptions, the potential benefit to farmers would be lower, as opposed to a town with a larger proportion of properties without agriculture.

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