A crackdown on fake farms in Scott County is about to wallop a whole bunch of people right in their most sensitive spot: their bank accounts.
In one extreme case -- a "shocker," in the words of County Auditor Cindy Geis -- annual property taxes will skyrocket from about $5,000 to nearly $40,000. In others, they will increase by $1,000 or more.
It is the latest phase in a lengthy campaign by the state and by counties to go after people who aren't really farming in any serious sense but are benefiting from generous tax breaks aimed at farmers.
Commissioner Tom Wolf, in whose mostly rural, southeast-corner district most of the affected properties are located, sat in disbelief on Tuesday in a conference room at the government center in Shakopee as example after example rolled by on a projection screen.
"People," he said, "are not going to be real happy."
Not all properties have been reviewed yet, Geis said, so it is hard to say exactly how many will be affected. She expects about 100 to be reclassified as something other than agriculture, and a "much larger" number to be removed from the Green Acres program, which suppresses property values to help real farmers close to metro areas stay in business even as land prices around them rise.
Scott County began going down this road a few years ago, when officials weeded out people who have fewer than 10 acres, a basic requirement in state law to be considered a farmer.
That move outraged the owners of many small acreages, such as people raising berries, organic vegetables or goats to sell to ethnic markets, and who consider themselves legitimate parts of the farm economy despite their small size.
The current phase of the crackdown, Geis warned commissioners on Tuesday, is homing in on more subtle cases than that. A family might have 12 acres, but fewer than 10 are tillable and contiguous, as required by law. Or they are raising hay, but only for their own recreational horses.
Any taxes being escaped by some are being paid unfairly by others instead, officials emphasized.
Typical examples are the following, commissioners learned, with school bond results factored out:
•A 20-acre property with recreational horses, much of it in hay but the owner isn't farming: Taxes rise from $308 to $1,342
•35 acres, 13 tillable but they are not contiguous: Taxes go from $2,246 to $4,436
•27 acres, but mostly woods: Taxes go from $2,588 to $3,558
•20 acres, only 4.5 are tilled, 12 are wetlands or unusable: Taxes rise from $1,538 to $3,390
Geis handed out proposed language on how to treat agricultural land and asked commissioners to consider whether they want to adopt it. Board Chairman Jon Ulrich said the board will have to ponder that.
Said Geis: "We are probably going to have some taxpayers definitely affected by this. There are people who have been 'ag' for 30 years and now no longer are going to be."
David Peterson • 952-882-9023