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Sheila Miller, Agricultural Coordinator

Berks County Commissioners voted to freeze Clean & Green

LEESPORT, PA - Berks County Commissioners voted on July 24th to freeze the Clean and Green agricultural values for enrolled parcels at 2001 levels.  This action is the result of several months of discussion and research by the county's farm organizations, the assessment office, and the Department of Agriculture.

Since 2001, farmers enrolled in Clean and Green have seen their taxes increase annually.  While other property owners in the county have not been reassessed since 1994, farmers and forest owners have had their real estate revalued every year.  That was the implementation year for a 2000 law designed to clear up confusion in the Clean and Green program.  Unfortunately, the formula that was created to revalue the classes of soils in the three categories of Clean and Green enrollment resulted in increases for land values on an annual basis.

The Berks County Pomona Grange passed a resolution in March asking for the Commissioners to review the system used to value Clean and Green parcels.  The Commissioners, the farm community, and county staff met in April to discuss the issues and determine a course of action to address the concern.  The Commissioners' vote locks in the agricultural values and eliminates the dependence on a fluctuating formula that factored in variables that were questioned by the farm groups.  About half the counties in the Commonwealth have abandoned the state's formula for determining Clean and Green rates.  By freezing the agricultural values, the Berks County Commissioners have given farmers and forest owners more predictability when it comes to budgeting their local tax obligations into their operating costs.

When Pennsylvania's constitution was amended by the General Assembly three decades ago to give preferential tax assessment to farmers and forest owners, the state policymakers understood there would be increasing pressures on these industries in the future to sell out and turn fields into houses or industrial sites.  The Clean and Green contract that landowners sign is a commitment to keep the land in production for at least seven years.

If the Clean and Green land is converted, there are serious penalties.  The benefit of lower taxes is a privilege under law that only comes when farms and forests continue to be used to raise food and lumber.  If that use changes, the tax benefits end and penalties plus interest are paid by the landowner.  While the law allows for some limited exceptions, farmers enrolled in Clean and Green need to review the rules before selling portions of their property or entering into other enterprises.  This may affect the farm's eligibility for the constitutionally permitted preferential tax savings.

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