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Elmore County farmers face massive tax hikes after assessor botched valuations for decades

Elmore County farmers face massive tax hikes after assessor botched valuations for decades

Dustin Hurst
June 12, 2015
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June 12, 2015

Mountain Home farmers face massive tax hikes after the Elmore County Assessor's office botched agricultural land valuations for decades.

One farmer at an Elmore County Republican Central Committee meeting Thursday night said his land values will jump more than 600 percent through a two-year period.

“This is going to be a hell of a bite,” said state Rep. Pete Nielsen, Mountain Home’s Republican House member.

Ron Fisher, Elmore County’s assessor since 2007, told the crowd gathered in the upper level of the courthouse Thursday night that his office may not have properly valued the land since the 1980s.

“It’s been some time since these values have been addressed,” Fisher said.

To find the market value of Mountain Home agricultural land, the assessor’s office considers several factors, including commodity prices and other pieces. One critical factor of calculations, farmers’ cost of doing business, likely hasn’t been adjusted for decades.

Farmers’ expenses include costs for chemicals, fertilizer, well water, electricity, fuel, equipment and wages.

Fisher worked with Idaho State Tax Commission staffers for several months to study the issue, releasing the finding last December.

Failing to adjust expense costs has led to a stark inequity in farm land evaluation costs in the region. The Idaho State Tax Commission reported the 2014 highest Elmore County farmland per acre at about $500, a far cry from Ada County’s more than $2,000 an acre.

Elmore County averaged about $297 an acre in farmland value.

Now that Fisher’s office is addressing the issue, farmers’ land valuations will skyrocket. This year, Fisher’s office valued average acres at about $750, up from $297, a 152 percent increase.

Farmers will see a similar surge next year -- if Fisher’s fix wins state approval.

State law mandates assessors maintain market values for land and give officials a year to come into compliance. Fisher will gamble and ask the Idaho State Tax Commission to approve the two-year compliance plan, but there are no guarantees that will happen.

If state tax commissioners don’t go along with Fisher’s request, farmers will face the two-part valuation surge in a single year.

“Maybe it's easier to give forgiveness than permission,” Fisher said of his plan.

Tax commissioners will decide the matter in August. Until then, farmers drift in financial limbo. Several farmers in the meeting said they plan to file tax appeals with county commissioners, though many acknowledge the difficulty they will face in that process.

State tax officials confirmed farmers must file tax appeals for each land parcel they own and provide significant documentation -- receipts, bills and myriad other financial records -- to fight the valuations.

Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said Owyhee County experienced a very similar fiasco about a decade ago. State tax officials said there could be many other counties not properly valuing land.

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