By Wade Coggeshall
— Legislation co-sponsored by State Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Lizton) would freeze current assessments on agricultural land, whose property tax rates are expected to increase 20 percent.
Senate Bill 319, which is also sponsored by Rep. Don Lehe (R-Brookston), is the first piece of legislation to pass both houses in the 2013 Indiana General Assembly. It was approved unanimously by the Indiana House of Representatives on Monday and now awaits Gov. Mike Pence's signature.
"My guess is if he signs it, it will be fairly quickly," Thompson said Thursday before the general assembly reconvened for the day. "I assume he will. There's no indication I've heard that he won't sign it."
Thompson became a sponsor of the bill after hearing from many concerned farmers in his district, which includes portions of Hendricks and Boone counties.
While the gross assessed value of total Indiana property taxes has declined 1.3 percent since 2007, it's increased 33.5 percent for agricultural land. Thompson says that's because of the formula used to calculate its assessed value.
"Crop prices have really gone up in the past several years," he said. "That's really affected corn and soybean prices."
As well, technological advancements have improved productivity. Combine those two factors and the assessed value skyrockets.
"Because the assessed value goes up, the property taxes go up," Thompson said.
SB 319 is basically a stopgap measure. It freezes current soil productivity factors enacted by the Department of Local Government Finance in March 2011 to assess agricultural land value. Those current factors are based upon varying soil types, most of which also have seen increased productivity in recent years.
"Applying that sends ag taxes up another 20 percent," Thompson said.
Under this legislation those soil productivity factors will stay as is for the property taxes payable in 2014. Meantime a study committee comprised of representatives from Purdue University's College of Agriculture and the Department of Local Government Finance would be commissioned to propose soil productivity factors to be used in agricultural land assessments, explain the methodology on why specific factors were chosen, and show data from each county that was used to determine these soil factors. Stakeholders and other taxpayers also would be encouraged to provide comment during this process.
"It holds in place what we have," Thompson said of SB 319. "There will be studies done and we'll determine where to go from that in future sessions."
Assuming Pence signs the bill soon, it will be implemented before spring property tax bills are mailed.