Crop production amendments rejected by Plan Commission
Currently, agricultural zoned properties are assessed at a much lower agricultural rate. Apparently, there are crops being grown on tracts of land within the city limits of Kenosha that are not zoned agricultural. This proposed ordinance change would open up seven additional tracts of land as agricultural, and would make legal any large tract of land being used for crop production. (A large tract of land was defined as 10 acres or more.) This ordinance change would have provided an opportunity for more people to be in compliance with zoning regulations.
Commission member Anita Faraone had questions regarding the State law: “Wouldn’t this ordinance change go against the state law if the property owner was already producing crops, regardless of the size of the tract of land?” Assistant City Attorney Matthew Knight stated that those who are in violation of the existing ordinance currently will still be in violation of the ordinance. They would still be taxed as if they were growing crops; nothing would change in that regard. The properties would be subject to enforcement by the city; the city could issue violations. Thus far, the ordinance has not been enforced.
As Knight explained, there are two different issues here: assessment and zoning. Is the land zoned properly? The city decides whether to enforce the zoning ordinance. If the property owner decides to stop growing crops, the agricultural assessment would then cease.
To give the reader an idea of the difference in property taxes being discussed here, the assessment on a property that’s being used for agricultural purposes could be as low as $500 to $1,000 versus the assessment on a property not being used for agriculture could be as high as $17,000 or $18,000.
Several people spoke out on the unfairness of the 10-acre requirement. Alderman Jan Michalski felt this ordinance “benefits and protects the property owners with large parcels of land to the detriment of the property owners with small parcels of land.” Knight disagreed; it is not to the “detriment” of those with smaller parcels of land. Both are in violation now.
Faraone said she also thought this was unequal treatment. She proposed reducing the acreage size from ten acres to either one-half acre or one acre.
The commission felt the economic impact of this proposed ordinance change needed review. If a 10-acre parcel of land produced 200 bushels of corn, for example, at $6/bushel, the total would be $1,200. This would deny the property owner who has five acres the same opportunity to make money. This ordinance creates a “restraint to trade.”
City Clerk/Treasurer Mike Higgins explained the history behind this ordinance change. There were vacant lots in Strawberry Creek. Let’s say, for example, that the assessment on one of those lots is $100,000/acre (depending on whether it was platted). If corn is planted on that lot, the assessment would be $250/acre. This would shift the tax burden to the rest of the taxpayers (in order to have a balanced budget). The total budget number does not change. Strawberry Creek was the one that approached the city regarding the agricultural assessment. They didn’t want to do it; they felt it was against the zoning ordinance. However, they wanted the same tax break. That’s what started the discussion. If they planted crops, they’d get the lower assessment.
Another committee member felt that passing this ordinance would take a “tool” away from the city. It would take the city’s option of enforcement away.
Commission member and Alderman Jesse Downing moved to deny the ordinance change, and all agreed. The ordinance change was not passed.