Town officials are told revised program must be in place by end of year to qualify for tax credits
The Fredonia Town Board was expected on Wednesday to consider contracting with the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Plan Commission to prepare an updated farmland preservation ordinance.
The Town Board met in a special session with the Plan Commission last week to consider the steps required to make farmers in the township eligible for tax credits offered through the revised state program.
“We’ve had several requests from farmers to continue with the program,” Town Chairman Rich Mueller said at the start of the joint session.
Over the decades, the state has had various programs in place to protect large tracts of agricultural land from development by offering landowners tax incentives.
According to Andrew Struck, Ozaukee County’s director of planning, before local farmers can continue participating in the latest rendition of the program, the town must incorporate the state’s revised farmland preservation requirements into its zoning ordinance.
A new zoning map must also be adopted, designating the areas that will be eligible for the program.
Struck stressed that participation in the program is voluntary, but the owners of parcels not included in the town’s farmland preservation map will not be eligible for the tax credit.
Participating communities must have their plans and maps in place by the end of the year, Struck said. Completed plans must be certified by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
To move that process along, he said the town could hire SEWRPC to draft a new zoning ordinance.
“We can move as fast as you are comfortable with, but it is expected to take a good chunk of the year to get this done,” Struck said.
The Town of Belgium recently completed its revised farmland zoning ordinance.
Officials in the towns of Port Washington and Saukville have chosen not to take part in the program. The state determined the Town of Cedarburg and City of Mequon do not have enough farmland to qualify for the preservation program.
If a community has a qualified preservation plan in place, participating landowners are eligible to claim tax credits of $7.50 per acre.
In the past, town farmers reportedly collected about $40,000 a year in credits.
Supr. Jim Stemper was skeptical about the program, especially when weighed against the cost to the town of putting a new ordinance and map in place.
“That credit isn’t free. You have to wonder how appealing the $7.50 credit is when some landowners are collecting as much as $200 an acre in rent,” Stemper said.
He also questioned whether there are hidden land-use restrictions on parcels in the program.
“There are 11 pages of legalese here. I gather there are changes in the law. I am not saying it is a bad program, but I question how many people would be interested at $7.50 an acre,” Stemper said.
Struck said it could cost as much as $20,000 to prepare a revised zoning ordinance and map for the town to be in the preservation program.
Based on past participation, supervisors asked that a proposal on the cost of preparing a plan be presented to the Town Board, which was scheduled to consider it at Wednesday’s meeting.