(Posted by Grant Maki, Of Counsel for the Ohio Environmental Council)
John and Marilyn Saveson live on their family farm and want to pass it on to their children, as Savesons have done for generations. Savesons have lived on that land since John Saveson’s great-grandfather acquired it in a state of wilderness over a century ago.
Today, John and Marilyn feel a strong connection to this piece of land that is so tied up in their family history. They also have a strong conservation ethic—just one of the old-fashioned farming values that have been passed down through generations of Savesons.
So they called the Natural Resources Conservation Service and asked about enrolling their land in the Wetlands Reserve Program (“WRP”). This program is part of the U.S. Farm Bill, and it provides financial and technical assistance to help farmers install wetlands on part of their property and dedicate it to conservation. The Savesons had put other land into the WRP once before, so they felt confident that they were doing the right thing for future generations. They set aside most of their land for wetland conservation, and plotted out a small area on the remaining land for their children to build homes.
The Savesons excitedly signed the papers in 2010 and started working on constructing the wetland.
But they were in for a rude surprise. In 2011 the Department of Taxation changed course on a decades old practice. For the past 30 years, lands enrolled in WRP have qualified for a lower tax status known as the “Current Agricultural Use Valuation” (“CAUV”). CAUV applies to all agricultural lands and all lands enrolled in a qualifying conservation program under the federal government.
In October 2011, however, the Department of Taxation decided that WRP lands no longer qualified. Without passing any legislation or even providing any public notice, the Department sent out a memo to local auditors that WRP lands should be taxed more heavily. Even though the Savesons had already put their land into WRP a year before the Department of Taxation changed its mind, they were given a tax bill of over $50,000.
There are a lot of things that aren’t right about this. The Department of Taxation is throwing the small family farmer, Ohio’s wetlands, and the Ohio Constitution’s prohibition on retroactive laws under the bus- All, in one move. We at the OELC are thrilled to have the Savesons as clients. That’s why we appealed this case at the Board of Revisions in August, and we’re ready to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to.