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Daily Court Reporter - News Proposed program aims to improve water quality in Ohio


Proposed program aims to improve water quality in Ohio

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

Finding the balance between robust agricultural production, clean water and a tax base to support local institutions is the aim of the proposed Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program, championed in a bill before members of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.

Democrat Reps. John Patterson and Michael Sheehy of Jefferson and Oregon, respectively, pitched the measure recently to fellow members of the Ohio House of Representatives during sponsor testimony - the bill's first hearing since its introduction in February.

In addition to establishment of the water quality improvement program, House Bill 62 calls for the state agricultural director to adopt rules consistent with the water quality components of a voluntary federal conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We must continue to find ways to protect and improve water quality in Ohio," Patterson said. "While we have made significant strides in recent years, there is much more that can and should be done to ensure access to safe drinking water is a universal right for all Ohioans."

The primary threat to clean water in the Buckeye State is phosphorous and nitrogen runoff - a circumstance linked directly to the state's top industry of agriculture.

"While (the federal) Conservation Reserve Program includes many commendable initiatives that, among others, aim to enhance wildlife habitat or provide better access to nutrition for pollinators, the program that we hope to establish through HB 62 would embody only the (program) initiatives that promote improved water quality," Patterson continued. "Perhaps some time in the future this body could pursue a program that promotes the other initiatives, but at this time Rep. Sheehy and I are focused solely on the water quality aspects."

The bill exempts from property tax any land enrolled in the program on Jan. 1 of the tax year, a summary detailed. If the land ceases to be enrolled in the program for a tax year, a charge is levied on the land equal to the amount of tax for the current tax year and the two preceding tax years that would have been levied on the land had it not been exempted from taxation.

The charge is collected and enforced in a manner similar to property taxes, the bill proposed. Any collected charges, after deduction of fees allowed to local officials for the collection of property tax, are credited to the state's General Revenue Fund

HB 62 "also allows for reimbursement of local taxing units for revenue lost due to land exemption to ensure that public school districts and community services are not adversely affected," Sheehy said. "Essentially, under the program, farmers will be incentivized to conserve environmentally sensitive agricultural land rather than use the property for farming or ranching."

The bill requires the state tax commissioner to provide payments from the state's general revenue to local taxing authorities equal to property tax revenue that would have been collected had the subject land been productive.

According to analysis of the bill provided by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the reimbursement payments would be made twice annually to county auditors and disbursed to taxing authorities in the amount of property tax forgone.

"In the state of Ohio, the Water Quality Improvement Program aims to build on the initiatives of the Conservation Reserve Program focused on improving our water quality," Sheehy said. "Though it is not a complete solution, it creates a program aimed at reducing the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen running into our watershed, giving our agricultural partners the opportunity to use their land to help reduce pollutants without sacrificing farm profit."

"The importance of protecting Ohio's public waterways cannot be overstated," Patterson concluded. "We rely heavily on fresh water and must continue to find ways as a state to promote clean water in not only Lake Erie, but throughout the state.

"HB 62 has the potential to make a very real impact on Ohio water quality."

Nine fellow House members have signed on as cosponsors of the bill.

HB 62 had not been scheduled for further hearing as of publication.

Date Published: May 26, 2017


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