From the Courier Post:
Spotty enforcement and an outdated state law allow thousands of landowners to pay pennies on the dollar in property taxes.
The Farmland Assessment Act of 1964, intended to preserve agriculture in New Jersey, is being used by millionaires, developers and anyone with at least 5 acres of land to slash their farmland tax bills by 98 percent.
A Gannett New Jersey investigation into farmland assessment records found that hundreds of landowners deemed “fake farmers” by those calling for reform are producing little more than the bare minimum — $500 — in goods to qualify for the tax breaks.
One landowner tried to declare weeds as a farm product and another forged a signature on a government document in attempts for the tax break, the investigation found.
“It was never the intent of the law that fake farmers would benefit,” said state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, who has proposed changes to the law. “If it’s not fulfilling the intent of the law, it is a violation of the public trust.”
The so-called fake farmers are likely costing local governments at least $82 million a year in lost property tax revenues, according to the analysis of 3 million property and tax records.
“Farmland assessment was intended for farmers to get a tax break, but what’s happened is the homeowner wants a tax break so he pretends he’s a farmer,” Motyka said. “If you have 300 people get farmland assessment (in a town), that means everyone else, including the farmers, has to pay taxes on their land to make up for that.”
A lack of inspections. Only 10 percent of the required inspections of farm-assessed woodlands were done this year by the state Department of Environmental Protection. DEP foresters are required to inspect such woodland properties every three years. DEP officials say they can’t ensure that owners of uninspected properties are meeting the requirements for a tax break.
Developer Hovsons Inc., for example, owns 10.5 acres of rolling pasture and woods along the scenic Navesink River in Middletown, one of the most exclusive areas in the state. Yet the Tinton Falls-based company will pay $30.52 in property taxes this year on that parcel. That’s a six-figure savings.
How did Hovsons do it?
The company set up nearly two dozen beehives and sells at least $545 worth of honey each year to qualify for a 98 percent tax reduction.