Timber, cattle oppose tax plan

Published 8:21 am Monday, August 11, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
Landowners, such as farmers, timber operators and cattlemen, are among those vehemently opposed to the proposed amendment to the state constitution.
At the crux of their opposition is the limit on current use taxation for large blocks of land.
Under the present system, land used for row crops, pasture or production of timber is taxed according to its current use.
Under the proposed amendment, the first 2,000 acres would still be taxed by current use values. But acre 2,001 and up would be taxed on its fair market value.
According to Dr. Billy Powell, vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association, that puts an undue burden on cattlemen, timber interests and farmers.
"True, 200 acres are exempt (under the amendment) from property taxes, provided the farmer lives on part of it," Powell said. "But at the 11th hour it changed and it was added that 2,000 acres could be taxed at current use level. But at 2,001 acres, the one acre would be taxed at market value, assessed at 100 percent. You can't pay $35 an acre and farm."
Powell said Alabama has enjoyed a lot of green space because current use taxation allows families to retain large blocks of land. He said many producers feel that the change would represent a significant change in property rights, forcing families to sell land that had been farmed or cut for timber because they could no longer afford the taxes.
But in an appearance in Flomaton Thursday, Gov. Bob Riley said that only 1.4 percent of landowners would be impacted by the 2,000 acre current use taxation change, that the other producers in the state would see no change and their taxes may go down, siting the 200-acre exemption.
Riley said he was tired of people saying he was killing farms.
He said the large timber interests have had preferred treatment for 100 years and that if the changes are enacted, timber companies would still pay the lowest taxes in the nation.
But local timberman Wilson Johnson doesn't see it that way.
"A big landowner provides a lot of jobs," he said. The increase would be a hardship on companies that have large blocks of timber.
"That would be a heavy burden on a company with 100,000 acres. They stimulate the economy through jobs and employment, and they can't compete in the markets now," he said.
Johnson said he believes in current use taxation and that the state could generate the money it needs some other way.
Powell agreed, saying he knows there is a real crisis.
"But our folks would like to be included early on in the forming of a solution. We would appreciate the opportunity to express our concerns and make a compromise before it is thrown into the political hopper."
Do you support the governor's package? Visit our Web site at www.atmoreadvance.com and register your vote!

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