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Insult The Farmers And You’ll Be Sure To Pay

, , , , , , | Friendly | CREDIT: USPO-222 | June 19, 2021

An attorney that I work with regularly as part of my job moved from an area with a very high cost of living to our rural community. He sold his $2,000,000 house — paid off and inherited from his grandparents — and bought over fifty acres with a huge house in a bedroom community that has a lot of dairy farms. He always used to say how it was much better living up here, both in terms of the lifestyle and monetarily, as his urban $2,000,000 house had property taxes in excess of $40,000 a year.

In addition to the huge house, the property was about forty acres of fields with a roughly ten-acre woodlot. After he moved into his new house, the attorney was approached by his neighbor, one of the area dairy farmers.

Farmer: “I had a handshake agreement with the former owner of your property. I mow the fields for hay two or three times per year and harvest a sustainable amount of trees out of the woodlot. In exchange, the old owner got 10% of the chopped wood, which is more than enough to heat your house all year long without having to run the oil boiler for anything more than hot water. I’d like to keep this arrangement going, as it worked out well for both of us for over a decade.”

The attorney thought the former owner was being taken advantage of and refused to do a handshake agreement.

Attorney: “Give me a week to draw up a proper contract.”

The farmer was not overjoyed with making this out to be more than a gentlemen’s agreement but agreed to come back the following week. The attorney decided that what would be “fair” was that the farmer should pay him $1,000 each time he mowed the fields for hay, since the farmer would feed the hay to his cows for “free” otherwise (completely ignoring that the farmer was using his own equipment and time to do the haying) and that the lawyer deserved 50% of the chopped wood, not 10%, or at least the 50% of the revenue the farmer got from selling the excess chopped wood (again ignoring the equipment and time investment of the farmer). As you can guess, the farmer refused.

This all happened in late 2019, when the fields were rather bare and the supply of chopped wood for the house was full. Well, then came 2020, and the fields started looking like garbage because none of the other farmers would pay to hay the fields. In fact, after speaking with the first farmer, the attorney found that all of the other area farmers were unwilling to mow the fields unless the attorney paid THEM $1,000 per mowing. And, of course, come wintertime, the attorney’s woodpile was depleted and he had to use the oil boiler to heat his entire home, costing well over $300 a month in winter heating costs.

Then we came to early 2021, tax prep season. The farmer, being a good and dutiful community-minded citizen, informed the town that he did not cultivate any of the attorney’s land for the entirety of 2020, nor did he know of any other farmers who had done so. Well, as it turns out, this was a big deal, because in our state, farmland is assessed at a much lower value than residential property and additionally has a separate and lower tax rate. The attorney’s land had previously been entirely zoned as farmland, except for the house and a few acres of lawn around it. The town sent out an assessor and rezoned the entire fifty-plus acres as residential, which more than tripled the taxable property value and imposed the residential tax rate rather than the much lower farm tax rate. The attorney was quite surprised and furiously told me, and everyone else we work with, all this past week how he’s going to sue the town because they now expect him to pay $50,000 a year in property taxes.

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