Are these NJ estates really farms? Big tax breaks for the well-to-do
In 2013 the law was changed in New Jersey to make it tougher for an individual or a business to qualify for farmland assessment status and the significant tax break that goes along with that designation.
Instead of generating $500 worth of agriculture-related income on the land in question, the total was raised to $1,000.
Some believe the change, which has decreased the total number of farms by about 1 percent, has helped to weed out “fake” farmers, but others think it’s done nothing to stop abuse.
Frank Pinto, an owner of Greener by Design and a New Jersey farmland assessment expert, supports the change.
He said even though some people who are getting this tax break are not full-time farmers, it’s still beneficial for them to be involved in this kind of effort because “if the landowner has the incentive to produce agricultural products, that disincentivizes them from sub-dividing and developing their land, and that then keeps the land open.”
He noted that has many environmental benefits, including “general enjoyment by the public; it protects groundwater; it protects erosion runoff.”
Pinto stressed it also helps to hold the line on municipal property taxes, because the local school system isn’t flooded with more children.
“One of the things that farmers always say is that cows don’t go to school, which is important to know. There’s almost no services that need to be provided for land that’s farm assessed.”
But Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said the state’s farmland assessment program protects fake farming.
He said increasing the agricultural requirement regulation is nothing short of ridiculous, because “raising it from $500 to a thousand just means that you need to sell a few extra Christmas trees on your property."
He stressed the only thing the change does is require someone to show on paper they are increasing what they’re producing by a small amount, giving them a huge tax break, which isn’t fair to everybody else.
“When someone who has an estate or McMansion gets to save 95 percent on the land value of their property taxes the rest of us have to make up that difference,” he said.
Paying a fair share
Pinto says most farm properties produce well over the minimum required agricultural income, whether it’s fruits and vegetables, Christmas trees or firewood, and the biggest impact of the change in the law has been to end hobby horse farms.
Pinto pointed out any house located on a farm that’s receiving farmland tax assessment is taxed just like anybody else’s house.
“It pays the same property tax like anyone else, it’s just the land that’s actually devoted to agriculture receives the beneficial tax rate.”
He stressed it is not easy to qualify for a farm assessment in New Jersey.
“The municipal assessors are getting much more diligent as to the information they require to prove someone is producing agricultural products,” he said.
“The reason for that is the state of New Jersey is cracking down and auditing more municipalities records for farm assessment.”
Tittel noted the change in the law “has had one minor area where it has been successful: Some people who just had one horse on their property and qualified for farmland assessment, they’ve been cut out.”
He pointed out in New York state, in order to qualify for farmland assessment you need to produce $10,000 worth of agricultural products a year.
“In New Jersey it’s not about farming the land, it’s about farming the government and fleecing the taxpayers."
New Jersey's most valuable farms
Highest assessed farmland properties in the state, according to municipal assessments. Properties sometimes comprise several individually taxed parcels, but this list only looks at the assessment of any single given block and lot.
The properties below are listed as "regular" farmland as opposed to "qualified" farmland, which is assessed according to its agricultural productivity rather than market value. Assessments of qualified farmland are worth a fraction of regular farmland. For example, 64 acres of the Natirar property in Somerset County are classified as qualified, generating just $186 in property taxes. But 25 acres of the same property is classified as regular farmland, providing $222,702 in taxes.
The list includes at least one property for any county with at least one farmland parcel worth over $1 million. Hudson is the only county without any farmland whatsoever.
7201 Weymouth Rd, Hamilton
200 Stabled Way, Mahwah
104 E. Saddle River Road, Saddle River
200 Woodside Avenue, Franklin Lakes
681 Closter Dock Road, Closter
3917 Route 563, Woodland
222 New Freedom Road, Southampton
301 Tom Brown Road, Moorestown
186 Beebetown Road, Winslow
Dennisville-Petersburg Road, Upper Township (Tuckahoe Sand & Gravel)
340 Sayres Neck Road, Lawrence
1201 Pompton Avenue, Cedar Grove
510 Mantua Boulevard, Mantua
31 Meadow Road, Readington
143 Woolf Road, Alexandria
100 Pleasant Valley Harbou Road, West Amwell
191 Miller Park Road, Holland
Harrison Street, West Windsor (Princeton University)
900 Cherry Valley Road, Princeton
4920 Province Line Road, Hopewell Township
Cold Soil Road, Lawrence
112 Federal Road, Monroe
5 Majestic Woods Drive, Monroe
170 County Route 537 East, Colts Neck
Muhlenbrink Road, Colts Neck
600 Navesink River Road, Middletown
776 Navesink River Road, Middletown
84 Glen Alpin Road, Harding
501 James St., Harding
157 Village Road, Harding
665 Spring Valley Road, Harding
55 Forest Edge Drive, Little Egg Harbor (Forest Edge Farm)
750 Westbrook Rd, West Milford
332 Monroeville Rd, Upper Pittsgrove
2 Main Street, Peapack-Gladstone (Natirar)
1095 Larger Cross Road, Bedminster
130 River Road, Hillsborough (Duke Farms)
67 Ravine Lake Rd., Bernardsville
Hawthorne Lake, Sparta
Bloomsbury Road, Franklin
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com