Indiana County farmers outline legislative priorities
PENN RUN — Indiana County farmers, and others owning parcels of land with 10 acres or more, will have to wait until next June to get an idea of how much their real estate tax can be adjusted under the Clean and Green program.
Gene Porterfield, president of Evaluator Services and Technology Inc., the company conducting the reassessment of Indiana County properties, told farmers and agribusiness owners Thursday that new rates for the Clean and Green program — which provides a use valuation for property rather than a market valuation and thus offers a potential tax reduction — are set each June 1.
The valuations are determined in part by soil types and whether the property is wooded.
According to Porterfield, there are about 8,100 parcels of land in Indiana County that have 10 acres or more and would qualify for enrollment in Clean and Green, which starts in January.
In October or November informational meetings will be held to explain in more detail how the Clean and Green program may reduce tax bills for some property owners.
“We want everyone who’s eligible for Clean and Green to enroll,” Porterfield said.
He added that reassessment workers have visited about 34,000 of the county’s approximately 48,000 parcels and the reassessment visits are expected to be completed by July.
Porterfield’s comments on Clean and Green came during the Indiana County Farm Bureau’s Legislative Agribusiness Tour, held each summer to bring farmers and agribusiness owners together with legislators and other elected officials to discuss agriculture issues. Thursday’s tour and discussions were held at Manor Motors near Penn Run.
The local farm bureau members also urged the General Assembly to make pension reform its No. 1 priority when lawmakers return to Harrisburg in September.
The state’s unfunded liability for pensions has reached $50 billion, and Calvin Farren, a local farm bureau member, told the gathering that burden increasingly will fall on property owners as their real estate taxes increase.
Farren noted that school directors recently have cited school districts’ rising contributions to the state’s pension liability as a primary reason for raising the real estate millages in their districts.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau officials say higher property taxes are especially troublesome for farmers who require large amounts of land as part of doing business.
State Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said Gov. Tom Corbett has made pension reform a priority and Reed agrees the growing pension liability is not sustainable.
“We’ve got to find a way to rein in those costs,” he said.
Joe Pittman, chief of staff for state Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, said pension reform will also be White’s top concern.
“It really is a crisis,” Pittman said.
The farm bureau members also:
• Raised concerns about efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand their authority over “navigable” waters by having that phrase include ditches, erosion features and farm ponds.
• Urged lawmakers to support immigration reform and expand guest worker programs to create a reliable and stable supply of people willing to do farm work, not just seasonally for fruit and vegetable harvesting but year-round and able to meet the labor needs of dairymen and farmers growing mushrooms.
• Urged support for increased reporting of natural gas well activities and more accountability of how deductions are made from royalty payments due landowners.
During the tour of Manor Motors, owner Ron Syster said that when his father started the business in 1968, there were a dozen full-line farm implement dealerships in the county. Today, Manor Motors is the only one remaining.
The dealership sells several lines of new farm machinery and used equipment from many manufacturers. Manor Motors also sells lawn care equipment and stocks replacement parts and repairs equipment in its shop and in the field, when necessary.
The company has six full-time and three part-time employees.
Syster said there is a general trend toward larger farm implements — 200 hp tractors, for instance, are becoming more popular — because farmers want to get more done in less time.
But farm machinery has steadily become more costly, too. When Manor Motors opened, tractors sold for about $100 per horsepower, Syster said. A used 225 hp tractor on his sales lot Thursday was priced at about $90,000, and a new tractor that size would cost about $200,000, he said.
PHOTO: Calvin Farren, a member of the Indiana County Farm Bureau, left, and Dave Kimmel, bureau president, addressed those in attendance Thursday at an agribusiness tour. (Tom Peel/Gazette)