Plant corn in the front yard

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published March 1, 2006  | March 2006 issue

Rural homeowning in the state has become gradually and steadily more expensive, thanks to property tax breaks given to farmers.

Hoping to provide property tax relief to small family farms, in 1995 the state changed the standard for assessing agricultural land from market value to so-called use value—in other words, valuing farmland as farmland only. This change has saved farmers more than $1 billion through 2004, according to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. On top of that, but on a smaller scale, the state also approved a measure to cut taxes for forested acreage adjacent to farmland by 50 percent. The new agricultural forest classification, first applied to this year's tax bills, slashed the taxable value of such acreage by more than $1 billion.

In urban areas, these tax assessment changes have had little effect because most of the tax base is in residential and business property. But the effect has been notable in rural counties with significant farmland, where taxable value has been shifting steadily to residential property, according to an article in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram. In one Buffalo County town, the new forest classification stripped $4.3 million from local tax rolls, which was 20 percent of the town's taxable value.

Ronald A. Wirtz