Monday, July 28, 2008

"Taxed off the Farm"-New Mexico's rural property tax laws could price out long time residents--High Country News

Next year, however, tracts of land smaller than 47.4 acres will not qualify for the grazing rate, even if cows, goats or sheep eat the grasses that grow there.

Those with fewer than 47.4 acres could see a tax increase from $6 to $115 per acre – the rate for irrigated agricultural land – or possibly even a much higher tax based on the property’s full market value. In sparsely populated Mora County, which has a median household income of $24,515 -- about 60 percent of the national average -- this could have profound effects on residents. "They’re classing people out," says Bruce Frederick, staff attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC).

About 600 parcels of land in the county are smaller than 47.4 acres, and nearly all of those are currently taxed at the special grazing rate, according to Romero. "The market here in Mora has gone pretty high," she says. And if the properties are assessed at full market value, "there’s no way people here would be able to pay their taxes. No way."

The change is meant to bring all counties into compliance with the state’s order, says Rick Silva, director of property tax at New Mexico’s Taxation and Revenue Department.

But there is nothing in the statute that directly references minimum land requirements. So where does the 47.4 acre requirement come in? "It’s an inference," says Frederick. "And I think it’s an unjust inference that conflicts with the law."

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