Many older individuals face the challenge of living on a fixed income despite a rise in expenses, especially real estate taxes. This is especially true for those individuals who own or operate farmland. There are, however, programs available to help ease the burden of property taxes. One such program is Pennsylvania’s Clean and Green program. This article will provide general information so that readers can determine whether this program could be beneficial to them or their loved ones.
What is the Clean and Green Program?
This program offers property tax relief by reducing the assessed value of real estate and, therefore, the amount of property tax owed. Real estate is assessed at a value for a particular use rather than fair market value. The intent behind the program is to encourage Pennsylvania residents to retain their land in agricultural open space, or forest land use by providing real estate tax relief.
What is the Difference Between Fair Market Value and Use Value?
Fair Market Value is the value that a willing buyer would pay for a particular property offered for sale by a willing seller. This value reflects the property’s current use and the value of its potential other uses based upon the property’s characteristics and conditions (otherwise referred to as the “highest and best use”). Use Value considers only the value of the property if it is used solely for a particular purpose (i.e. agricultural or forest land), not its highest and best use. This type of valuation presumes the property will not be used for any other purpose in the future. Use Value is typically calculated by determining the income that a particular property would generate if the land were used solely for agricultural or forest land purposes. Generally, this will result in a lower tax assessment for a particular property.
Who Determines Use Value?
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture publishes a maximum Use Value for each county on an annual basis. The Use Value for each county and the formula used to calculate these values can be found online at www.agriculture.pa.gov/Encourage/farmland/Pages/default.aspx.
Is There a Deadline to Apply?
In order for your property to receive the Clean and Green designation, you must apply by June 1 to be considered for the following tax year. Once you apply and are enrolled, you do not need to reapply annually to continue receiving preferential treatment under the program. You are, however, required to notify the county tax assessment office of any changes of use in the enrolled land and an amended application may be required.
Does My Property Qualify for Clean and Green?
In order to receive the reduction in assessed value, land must be devoted to one of the following uses: 1) Agricultural Use; 2) Agricultural Reserve Use; or 3) Forest Reserve Use.
Land eligible under the Agricultural Use category must meet the following additional requirements:
- The land must have been in agricultural use for a period of three (3) years prior to the Clean and Green application; AND
- The land must consist of at least ten (10) contiguous acres OR be capable of generating at least $2,000 of gross income annually from farm activities.
Land eligible under the Agricultural Reserve Use or Forest Reserve Use categories only require that the owner own at least ten (10) acres.
What if I have Multiple Tracts of Land?
An additional requirement of the program is that all contiguous land described in a deed must be included on an application. For example, if a deed describes two tracts of contiguous land which are part of one unit of farmland, both tracts are required to be enrolled in the program. However, if each tract is on a separate deed, it is not required that both tracts be enrolled in the program, as long as the tract being enrolled meets the other requirements of the program.
What if I Have Multiple Uses on One Tract?
Having multiple uses on a single tract of land does not necessarily preclude preferential treatment under the Clean and Green program. If only some of the uses qualify for the program, a landowner may still apply for the designation. The entire tract must be included on the application, but only those portions which are devoted to a qualifying use will receive the preferential tax assessment rate. The portion devoted to a qualifying use must meet all other acreage and income requirements discussed above.
What Happens if the Use of My Property Changes?
An owner who changes the use of their property from Agricultural Use, Agricultural Reserve, or Forest Reserve will be responsible for up to seven (7) years of roll back taxes plus the rate of 6% interest per year.
What are Roll Back Taxes?
Roll back taxes are imposed when changes in use occur to property enrolled in the Clean and Green program. The roll back amount is calculated by taking the difference between what was paid under the program versus what would have been paid had the property not been enrolled in the program.
May I Sell All of My Property Without Triggering Rollback Taxes?
Landowners may sell land enrolled in the Clean and Green program without triggering roll back taxes if they sell the entire tract of land enrolled in the program. For more complex sales involving selling portions of land, seek expert advice. To discuss your options and the potential ramifications of any sale, you should contact an experienced attorney and the county assessment office prior to transferring any land enrolled in the program.
What Happens if I Die?
The death of an owner of property enrolled in the Clean and Green program does not automatically terminate the property’s enrollment in the program. Under normal circumstances, the new owner(s) will continue to receive preferable assessment treatment as long as no changes in the use of the property are made. If you have property enrolled in the program, it may be wise to review your estate planning documents with an experienced attorney to ensure your property is properly preserved according to your estate plan without triggering roll back taxes.
Ryan Webber, Attorney