Daily Court Reporter - News Ag groups back tax break on land near Lake Erie wetlands
Ag groups back tax break on land near Lake Erie wetlands
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
The lawmaker duo sponsoring a bill that would make tax exempt certain lands buffering rivers, creeks and wetlands lying in Lake Erie's Western Basin say the state must act now if it intends to maintain sovereignty over the state's Lake Erie policy.
House Bill 460 would exempt these qualifying riparian buffers from property taxation and reimburse local taxing units for resulting revenue losses.
"For those not already familiar, riparian buffers ... are strips of land between 35 and 100 feet in width that border a permanent body of water or wetlands," said a joint sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson. "They must also consist entirely of naturally regenerated, seeded, or planted trees or perennial vegetation, and must not contain invasive plants or noxious weeds.
"Extensive research has proven that riparian buffers are effective filters for nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sulfur and magnesium."
During testimony before members of the House Energy and Natural Resources, Patterson explained that excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are of particular concern in the nation's streams and lakes due to their ability to cause harmful algal blooms.
"We believe our legislation will provide an incentive for all landowners in the Western Basin of Lake Erie to take land out of agricultural production and instead install riparian buffers," he said.
HB 460 proposes that the measure's tax exemption function similar to other existing tax exemptions and be administered through an application process.
"The owner of the land - or another eligible person holding certain kinds of ownership interest - must apply to the Director of Agriculture for the exemption," Joe McDaniels for the Ohio Legislative Service Commission's analysis of the bill. "If the application is approved, the exemption would continue until the land no longer qualifies as a riparian buffer or until there is a change in ownership.
"The exemption would apply only if the land qualifies as a riparian buffer for the entire tax year. As with most other property tax exemptions, the application for the riparian buffer exemption must be filed by December 31 of the tax year to which the exemption applies; school boards may ask to receive notice of each application; and school boards and certain other taxing units and public officers may challenge the legality of the exemption as applied to particular land."
Fellow joint sponsor Rep. Michael Sheehy, D-Oregon, said northwest Ohioans know well the fight ahead of them.
"A water supply so polluted that it can't be used, economic stagnancy and the crowding out of native species are all vivid and impending threats in my community," he said. "The governor and his administration have asked this legislature to act in defense of Lake Erie, and I can say with certainty that if we do not act, the federal government will.
"Of course, there is no singular, silver bullet to end the harmful algal blooms Lake Erie has suffered through in the past decade. To do so will take years and many more pieces of this policy puzzle, but I'm in this for the long haul."
Another provision of HB 460 would require soil and water conservation districts to assist landowners with the creation and maintenance of these riparian buffers upon landowners' requests.
"Our experience is that farmers are generally supportive of such actions, but sometimes the costs are too high, especially in the current circumstances of low commodity prices," Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan told lawmakers. "We believe that HB 460 can be a useful tool in bridging the gap between the need for farmers to maximize production and revenue from farm land and the need to protect the environment.
"It does so in a very fair and practical way, by reducing the tax burden on land that is used specifically to protect water quality that might be effected by agricultural practices on the farm."
Peter Bucher, Water Resources director for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, seconded Sheehy's sentiment during testimony.
"There is no single solution to solving the problem of harmful algal blooms," Bucher began. "Both state and local governments will need a multifaceted approach to improve Lake Erie water quality.
"I believe this legislation can be one of many such approaches toward making Lake Erie healthier. Although progress has been made in other areas of nutrient runoff, we cannot rest on past successes."
Solving the problem, he said, requires smarter ways to get the best results.
The Ohio Farm Bureau, in addition to The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, has backed the bill.
Five fellow House members have cosponsored HB 460, which had not been scheduled a third hearing at time of publication.
Date Published: March 27, 2018