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Community LTE: House Reassessments? CAFO Tax Breaks? Read On

This eye opening letter to the editor by community member Robert Swanson suggests people living near CAFOs may want to get their homes reassessed and points out an unfair tax break CAFO owners receive.

Published in the September 6, 2018 Fairfield Ledger

CAFOs Benefit From Unfair Tax Policy

To the editor:

There is a misunderstanding about property taxes.

In the Aug. 30 Fairfield Ledger, Dianne Brandt stated “any time a farmer improves his property, be it a … CAFO, he’s increasing funds funneled into our schools.” Unfortunately, this is not true.

The Pollution Control Exemption (Iowa Code 427.1.19), euphemistically called the Pit Tax Exemption, provides for a reduction in property taxes for “pollution-control property … used “primarily to control or abate pollution of any air or water in this state…”

What that means is that people who own CAFOs can apply for a property tax exemption on the square footage of their confinement pits. The confinement is considered a pollution control device because it contains the manure in one spot. (Practically, this does not make sense since air pollution is created by blowing out the toxic gases generated by the putrefying manure in the pit.)

Most of the value of a CAFO is in the confinement, so in essence, CAFO owners pay very little taxes on their confinements. In Jefferson County, the Assessor’s Office reports there was a total of $1.5 million taken for 55 CAFOs as of February 2016.

The real kicker is that rural residents who pay taxes on agricultural land and property other than CAFOs are subsidizing the tax break for the pit and paying more in taxes so the 55 CAFO owners can enjoy that $1.5 million tax reduction.

Therefore, in this situation, CAFOs do not support tax dollars for schools or other services in the county. Not only are CAFOs harmful to air and water quality as well as property values, they are also not fair in taxation.

Now let’s discuss another unfair issue of property values and taxation. It has been documented in numerous studies that a CAFO can reduce the property value by 10-50 percent plus depending on the distance of the CAFO to a home and the numbers of hogs in it. One such report on Iowa properties was published by Dr. William J. Weida of Colorado College in 2012 cites such devaluation, and there are many others. So not only do homeowners lose the enjoyment of their homes due to the smell and air pollutants, etc., but they also lose significant property value.

Property taxes of affected homes next to CAFOs are normally not reassessed to account for this drop in value. The taxes of those homeowners stay higher than they should be, their property value is less, and if they want to sell their house, it is difficult to find a buyer even at a reduced price.

Therefore to make things fair, I suggest that any house within approximately 2 miles of a CAFO should have their house’s value re-assessed and their property tax be reduced depending on their closeness to the CAFO and the deleterious effect it has.

Taxation should be fair.

– Robert Swanson, Fairfield

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