Written by MICHAEL LoCICERO
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 17:15
Changes must be made for farmers to qualify for preservation payments
Realizing they must comply with state law or risk losing tax credits for agricultural farm land, Town of Belgium officials agreed to update its farmland preservation program to be consistent with the town comprehensive plan.
A state law passed in 2009 requires every county in the state adopt a farmland preservation plan, Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Director Andrew Struck said.
The law requires that landowners must have land in a designated farmland preservation area — which most of the town is under — to receive income tax credits.
The town has until the end of 2015 to update its farmland preservation agreement or risk losing tax credits for its residents.
Under the agreement, farmers who qualify for the program will likely receive a credit of $7.50 per acre.
Rick Kania, principal planner for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, who helped the town update its zoning ordinance last year, will assist the town.
“We’ll go step by step and walk you through everything,” Kania said.
Town Chairman Tom Winker said the Town of Belgium and Town of Fredonia are the only towns in Ozaukee County eligible for farmland preservation credits.
Zoning Administrator Charlie Parks said 94% of the town is zoned for agricultural use and the farmland preservation agreement is important to the future of the town.
“We need to keep this as simple as possible,” Parks said. “As much of a pain as some of this is, let’s just do it.”
Kania and town officials will pore over thousands of pages of documents to make sure the town gets certified by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and stays eligible for the credits.
Once certified, the plan is good for up to 10 years.
Winker said a committee of selected Plan Commission members will likely be formed to ensure the accuracy of the agreement.
SEWRPC will charge the town $5,000 for the service, which will be budgeted for 2015, Winker said.
“It’s hard to spend money on something that’s not tangible, but we’ve been ahead of the curve on this most of the time,” Parks said. “We just need to get going on this.”
Farmland preservation planning grants are available to reimburse counties for up to 50% of costs. It’s unclear if the town will seek any grant assistance from the county to help pay for SEWRPC’s assistance.
“This is another tool for us to maintain our rustic lifestyle,” Winker said.
The agreement with SEWRPC must be approved by the Town Board at its May 5 meeting.