Q1. Does the agricultural district impact taxes?
Answer: No. The agricultural districts do not affect your taxes. Agricultural lands may qualify for a tax break through the agricultural value assessments program. Though agricultural value assessments and agricultural districts are governed by the same law, the process is completely independent. Your taxes are based on the current land use and are determined by your assessor independent of the agricultural district. Your taxes will not automatically increase if your property is removed from the district nor will your taxes decrease for being in the district.
Q2. Is the agricultural district part of zoning?
Answer: No. The agricultural district is not the same as zoning. The agricultural district does not affect your property class.
Q3. Does the agricultural district restrict me from doing certain things on my land?
Answer: No. The agricultural district does put any restrictions on what you can do to the land. They do not prevent you from developing your land into residential or commercial uses in the future. Their main goal is to provide protections for current and potential agricultural lands and to encourage agriculture to continue. You may build new structures on land in the agricultural district, following the same process as lands outside of the agricultural district.
Q4. If my property is not in an agricultural district, what district am I in?
Answer: Think of agricultural districts as a layer, overlaid on zoning and other planning tools. If your property is not in an agricultural district, then it is simply just not part of the district. It is not added to another layer.
Q5. Do agricultural districts prohibit selling land?
Answer: No. Being in an agricultural district does not prohibit the selling of land. The ADL does not restrict the transfer of real property. The ADL does provide for a real estate transfer disclosure by the seller to the prospective purchaser. The disclosure states that the property is located within an agricultural district and that farming activities including noise, dust and odors occur within the district. Prospective residents are also informed that the location of the property within an agricultural district may impact the ability to access water and/or sewer services.
Q6. If my land is in an agricultural district, do I automatically receive its benefits?
Answer: No. Only land considered by the State to be a “Farm Operation” (see definition below) receives the benefits. “Farm operation” means the land and on-farm buildings, equipment, manure processing and handling facilities, and practices which contribute to the production, preparation and marketing of crops, livestock and livestock products as a commercial enterprise, including a “commercial horse boarding operation” as defined in subdivision thirteen of this section, a “timber operation” as defined in subdivision fourteen of this section and “compost, mulch or other biomass crops” as defined in subdivision sixteen of this section and ”commercial equine operation” as defined in subdivision seventeen of this section. Such farm operation may consist of one or more parcels of owned or rented land, which parcels may be contiguous or noncontiguous to each other.
Q7. Where can I find out if my property is in an agricultural district?
Answer: Right now, you will have to call Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management to determine if you are in an agricultural district or you may visit the NYS Ag and Markets website to see a general agricultural district map. In the near future, this information will also be included on the Sullivan County Real Property Assessment Data website.
Q8. What is an agricultural district?
Answer: A geographic area which consists predominantly of viable agricultural land. Agricultural operations within the district are the priority land use and afforded benefits and protections to promote the continuation of farming and the preservation of agricultural land. In practice, districts may include land that is actively farmed, idle, forested, as well as residential and commercial.
Q9. What is an agricultural district review?
Answer: Districts are usually reviewed, or renewed, every 8 years. The Sullivan County Legislature, after receiving the County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board report and recommendations and after a public hearing, determines whether the district shall be continued, terminated or modified. During the review process, land may be added or deleted from the district. Counties are also required to designate an annual 30-day period when landowners may petition the County for inclusion of viable agricultural lands in an existing agricultural district. In Sullivan County, the annual review takes place from April 1st to April 30th each year.
Q10. Do non-farming residents benefit from agricultural districts?
Answer: Everyone benefits. Besides its value for the production of food, agricultural land provides many environmental benefits including groundwater recharge, open space, and scenic viewsheds. Agriculture benefits local economies too, by providing on-farm jobs and supporting agribusinesses. Agricultural land requires less public services than developed land and results in cost savings for local communities.
Q11. Does an agricultural district guarantee a farmer’s “right to farm”?
Answer: The ADL protects farm operations within an agricultural district from the enactment and administration of unreasonably restrictive local regulations unless it can be shown that public health or safety is threatened. The NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets evaluates the reasonableness of a specific requirement or process imposed on a farm operation on a case-by-case basis. The Commissioner may institute an action or compel a municipality to comply with this provision of the ADL.
Q12. Do agricultural districts consist entirely of farmland?
Answer: Districts must consist predominantly of viable agricultural land. Predominance has been interpreted as more than 50 percent of land in farms, but most districts have a higher percentage. The benefits and protections under the ADL, however, apply only to farm operations and land used in agricultural production.
Q13. Does an agricultural district preserve farmland?
Answer: Agricultural districts do not preserve farmland in the sense that the use of land is restricted to agricultural production forever. Rather, districts provide benefits that help make and keep farming as a viable economic activity, thereby maintaining land in active agricultural use.
Q14. Do agricultural districts eliminate a municipality’s ability to control growth?
Answer: No. To the contrary, an agricultural district can be an effective tool in helping local governments to manage growth. The existence of a district, for example, can help direct development away from traditional farming areas.
Q15. Can government acquire or condemn farmland within an agricultural district against a landowner’s wishes?
Answer: The ADL does not supersede a government’s right to acquire land for essential public facilities like roads or landfills. However, the ADL provides a process which requires a full evaluation of the effects of government acquisitions on the retention and enhancement of agriculture and agricultural resources within a district.
Q16. Who bears the cost of the agricultural assessment benefit?
Answer: Property taxes saved by farmers as a result of agricultural assessments must ultimately be made up by all taxpayers in the affected municipality. Farmers, as other homeowners, must bear their fair share of any tax shift since their residences are not subject to an agricultural assessment.