Fresno County won't change Williamson Act tax standards

The owners of 45 acre estates on the rolling hills east of Fresno are getting a break on their property taxes.
April 22, 2014 4:58:31 PM PDT
The owners of 45 acre estates on the rolling hills east of Fresno are getting a break on their property taxes. Because in Fresno County this is considered commercial farmland, so it qualifies for a tax break under the Williamson Act because at one time, it was grazing land.

Supervisor Henry Perea asked his fellow supervisors if they wanted to consider setting some kind of standard, to define what a commercial farm is.

"If land is not being used as a commercial farming operation is it eligible for subsidies under the Williamson Act?" He asked.

County Assesor Paul Dictos told the board that state wants counties to set a minimum dollar amount that land must produce to be considered a commercial farming operation in order to qualify for the Williamson Act. He wonders if giving a tax break to someone who doesn't produce anything like giving away other taxpayers money.

"If somebody gets a subsidy and he's not farming, he's not producing food and fiber he may be getting a gift of public funds."

Many other counties set minimum thresholds. In Madera County it's a mere $250 an acre. But Fresno County only requires Williamson Act farmland to be a minimum of 20 acres, and that it not be idled for more than three years. But there is no requirement anything of monetary value be produced on the land.

Supervisor Debbie Poochigian doesn't see any reason to change.

Poochigian said, "Our definition right now, there's nothing wrong with it from my perspective."

Board Chairman Andreas Borgeas suggested Dictos come up with a threshold for the supervisors to consider. But Dictos responded state law requires the Board of Supervisors, not the assessor to make that call.

"The job of making a determination of defining a commercial farming operation is not mine," said Dictos. "It is yours. I am not going to do that."

But the supervisors wouldn't do it either. Supervisor Phil Larson made the call.

Larson said, "I make a motion we leave it like it is and must move forward."

They voted to keep things as they are, and let non farmers get a tax break meant for farmers, Dictos was disappointed.

Dictos added, "The board has to come up with a definition of what is a commercial farming operation, and this board today declined to even discuss it."

Several counties require farmland produce $10 to $15 thousand in crops or livestock to qualify for Williamson Act subsidies.

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