Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
June 1999 #3

So Who's Going to Buy My Farm?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a program to pay farmers to keep farming instead of selling their land to developers. The state gives them the difference between the "fair market value" and the "agricultural value" of their land.

In Massachusetts, you can pay a lower property tax rate for farmland.

I want to be a farmer. Do blueberry bushes count? Wild rhubarb?

If this were Kansas, I'll bet Chip's sunflowers would count.

The fact is, we have some of the last open space in Marblehead. Much of it is driveway, on which a landscape company parks its trucks and neighbors park their van and a friend keeps his boat. Some of it is my wildflower weed garden. The rest is lawn that will be meadow if we ever decide not to cut it.

Tell us we can get a tax break or a subsidy if we call it pastureland, and the decision is made.

In the imaginary public television village of Ballykissangel, one of the local characters took advantage of an Irish law that gave farmers a subsidy for grazing sheep. Though he didn't have any, he made some wooden sheep-forms and scattered them around the landscape. Since the government inspected by helicopter, they looked real enough.

How hard can it be to make a wooden sheep?

I suppose I could raise turkeys and grow corn. That's what my neighbors to the south did, until they sold their entire farm to developers who have built, so far 24 Houses in the half million dollar range.

My neighbor to the west owned trees, underbrush, and two shacks, one of them falling down. All but a few trees are gone now, replaced by four more mini-mansions.

I don't mind the new buildings: it's nice to have neighbors with children to come by at Halloween, and the loss of wooded areas discourages coyotes from moving into the neighborhood and eating the cats. But my other neighbors may be wondering when developers will offer to buy their raised-ranches and capes to replace them with something larger and more expensive. If my and Chip's two humble cottages were torn down, at least five more half million dollar homes could be build on our ... farm.

Any government anywhere want to pay us to make sure this doesn't happen?

Since I don't really want to build wooden sheep, raise turkeys, or have a cow, I'm willing to make a deal with my town and state. Tax all those expensive new houses but don't ask for overrides to pay for bigger schools for the kids who live in them. Don't even think about raising the taxes on my home to buy open space somewhere else. Never mind a farmer's subsidy, just let me have my land tax-free. I won't sell it to developers, and nature lovers can walk past and admire our parking lot, weeds and sunflowers to their heart's content.

If I ever figure out how to make those big ugly leaves into a blueberry rhubarb pie, I might even invite some of the strollers in for a taste. That's the kind of farmer I am.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  Her syndicated columns appear in the Salem Evening News, the Lowell Sun, the Tinytown Gazette and MediaNews Group newspapers around the state.

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