As part of Tuesday’s budget discussions by the Barrow County Board of Commissioners, chairman Danny Yearwood tossed several ideas on the table of ways to increase county revenues.
Among those ideas was to raise the minimum acreage required for a landowner to qualify for the conservation use exemption. Under conservation use, a landowner signs a contract with the county agreeing to leave the land for agriculture use and not develop it. In return, the landowner gets a significant tax break with the property valued much less than real market value. If the land is sold during the contract, the owner has to pay a stiff penalty to the county.
Around 40,000 acres is under conservation use treatment in Barrow County with the average net value for taxes in the $300-$400 per acre range.
Yearwood proposed Tuesday night to raise the minimum acreage from the current 10-acre minimum. Yearwood said other counties in the region allow reduced taxes only on tracts that are 20 acres or larger.
Doing that would remove some of the current conservation use exemptions, thereby increasing the county’s tax digest.
Commissioner Steve Worley said he would like to know how much revenue the change would generate. Commissioner Larry Joe Wilburn said he was told that if the county went to 20 acres, there would be no appeal process. He noted the change would affect him, meaning he would not be able to vote on the issue due to a conflict of interest.
Commissioners Ben Hendrix and Isaiah Berry both expressed concern about how many farmers would be affected. The board took no action but agreed to study the issue.