Pennsylvania farmland tax program altered

BY ROBERT SWIFT

Times-Shamrock Writer

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s program to preserve private farmland and forests through tax breaks is being altered to accommodate development of natural gas deposits and wind and solar power.

The “Clean and Green” program, which dates to 1974, allows farmland, woodland and open land to be assessed at its use value rather than fair market value, thus giving farmers a break on school property taxes.

This program is considered to be largely successful; to be eligible landowners must have at least 10 acres of farm, forest or open land and prove they earn at least $2,000 annual gross income from farming their land. Under rules in effect during most of the program’s existence, if a landowner decides to convert any part of land enrolled in Clean and Green to some other use, he must pay roll-back property taxes reflecting the difference between use value and fair market value on the entire tract of land.

Now lawmakers are moving to allow natural gas drilling and development of wind and solar power and other alternative energy on portions of land enrolled under Clean and Green rules without jeopardizing an entire tract’s preferential tax assessment.

A bill awaiting Gov. Ed Rendell’s signature would allow farmers to lease property for wind power without roll-back property taxes being applied to the entire tract. Roll-back property taxes would apply only to the land used for the wind power system and related structures such as power transmission lines.

In addition, the bill provides that a farmer can locate a solar-power system on enrolled land, for example, without losing the preferred tax assessment if more than half the power produced is used on site.

House lawmakers voted final approval to this measure earlier this week.

The bill will boost development of homegrown energy and provide farmers with additional revenue, said Rep. Tom Houghton, D-13, Cochranville, the bill sponsor.

This bill follows in the wake of another Clean and Green revision that became law last month. Sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Williamsport, this law makes landowners who lease land and mineral rights for natural gas development subject to roll-back taxes only for the well site, not the entire tract enrolled in Clean and Green.

“These common sense revisions … are a win-win for our agriculture community and for responsible Marcellus Shale development in the Commonwealth,” said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, when the law was signed.

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