Thursday, October 11, 2007

Something’s fishy with these farms

I read with interest about the controversy over State Senator Ellen Karcher’s farm. Her opponent in this year’s election, Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, has made an issue out of the fact that Karcher and her husband, Dr. John Hochberg, get a $14,000.00 property tax break because 6 acres of their home in Marlboro is classified as a farm. They grow Christmas trees and sell them to their friends. I’ve heard about this tax break. Former Governor Whitman has a farm in Hunterdon County and it was a controversy during one of her campaigns. I’ve seen cows grazing around a mansion on Navesink River Road in Middletown. That must be one of those farms.

My wife and I raise fish. Well, she really raises them. I just pay for it. We didn’t set out to do this. We bought 8 fancy gold fish a couple of years ago for a pond we dug on our property. My wife did such a great job making the pond system work that by the end of our first season we had 157 fish. This was very alarming to me, as I realized that another year of this and we would have 37,000 fish.

As a businessman, I have learned to look for the opportunity in every problem, and I set out to see if I could get a property tax break by declaring my home a fish farm. You only need to generate $500 in revenue a year to be a farm and get that tax break. That would be easy with so many fish. We could under cut everyone else’s price and still sell way more than $500 in fish. But, to qualify for a farm, you needed five acres of land. Five acres! I had a 200 cubic feet producing $37,000 worth of fish if I sold them for only $1.00 each. What did I need five acres for? I needed them for the tax break. Oh well. That must be why there are no farms in Highlands.

I can understand farms getting a property tax break. Agriculture is still an important part of the New Jersey economy. According the State Department of Agriculture’s web site, New Jersey has 9600 farms and contributes $64 billion dollars to our economy every year. $64 billion dollars! That’s 69% of our unfunded pension liability for state workers! That is a lot a fruit and vegetables, flowers, trees and fish. And none of those creatures needs an education, so a property tax break is fair.

But is it fair that a property that only generates $500 into the economy gets a big $14,000 property tax break? The farm assessment program probably made sense back in the days when $500 could buy a new car or 5 acres of land and property taxes were affordable for most. $500 is not what it used to be, and the farm assessment program should be adjusted to close what is now a loophole. Farmers should get the tax break. Not wealthy hobbyists with five acres. With property taxes driving seniors and the middle class workers out of New Jersey, closing this loophole by requiring that a farm generate $100,000 in revenue would not be unreasonable. It would ease the burden on non-farmers and cover a pension or two.

Originally published in The Courier October 11, 2007

7 comments:

ambrosiajr said...

Thank you for the first part of this post. It actually made me laugh out loud. But the second part doesn't do the same thing for me as the first part. You are condemning people for using the law. Not just Ellen Karcher, but others that may not generate $100K a year, but maybe an extra $10,000 a year to offset the taxes they pay on the part of the farm where they live. Beck puts this out there because she has nothing else. She's an attack dog who uses a smokescrean issue to defray the fact that she has no ideas to contribute, other than ideas that tear the other person down. She's done this her entire career, so much so, that a few years back, the APP asked her to stop putting out negative flyers and just do some work. She had been in office for a year when this happened. Until the laws are changed, why shouldn't anyone who can use the law FOR them, use it. I certainly would, and there's no way you can convince me that you wouldn't either. Its legal, and its available to all who qualify.

Art Gallagher said...

Rick,

I'm glad you appreciated the humor, and I'm surprised by your reaction to the rest of the piece.

Read it again. I'm not comdemning anyone for exploiting the law. I said I tried to do it myself.

I am suggesting the law be changed, as it is no longer equitable. You have a point about the "farmer" generating $10K in revenue, but still that is not a working farm. Even $100K is hardly a working farm. I don't want to see people of modest means who have benefited from this program lose there homes, but I don't want to see those who can afford to pay their fair share exploit the loop hole when their neighbors are struggling. I wonder if that "farmer" on Navesink River Road would still have cows if they weren't getting the tax break.

Jen Beck, Joe Kyrillos and Sean Kean announced today that they were forming a citizens advisory committee to study the issue. It warrants studying. In my mind there is no question that the $500 threshold needs to be raised. I'd be happy if it was raised to $37,000 and the land threshold lowered to 200 cubic feet. :-)

The program should be adjusted and protections put in for those it will create a real hardship for. I could see giving those who are generating $10K something of a break, but at a lower percentage than those who are really earning their livings and paying their employees with their farms.

When did you ever think you'd see a Republican want to raise a tax?!

Regarding Karcher's situation, I don't have a problem with her farm or the property tax break under the current law. I wish she would sell me five or six trees for $100 each. However, if she did not pay income tax or sales tax on those cash sales, she has a problem.

Her husband has been in hot water before. Google him to find out. I hope they paid the taxes and the paper work is in order, but if not, it is fair game and Beck is right to go after it.

Barry Goldwater said...

Ambrosiajr has the same mental block about dem candidates as he accuses us of having about republican candidates.

The key here is not the tax break, it is the hypocracy of it all. Karcher holds hereself out as the queen of all ethics, she even reports her sons $50.00 fencing fee!!

Yet she can not bring herself to report this apparently huge cash business she runs. For someone who brought down John Bennett (with the help of the APP) on the same type of "mistake" she has some 'splaining to do.

Live by the sword, die by the sword, Ellen.

ambrosiajr said...

If I remember correctly Barry, Porky Bennet was double billing clients. I don't see how that is the same as Karcher using the law in the way it is written. Unless there's a law that says you can rip off your clients that I don't know about. Maybe its an unwritten law....

And, like you, I have never made any bones about who I support, or who I am, or where my mental blocks lead me.

Art, I can start a petition about the 200 cubic foot requirement change here in Colts Neck if you would start one in Highlands. Hey, ya never know.

Art Gallagher said...

Hey! I'm porky too! Let's be little more civil with our insults. Insults based on behavior or policies are ok, like boneheaded bully for example. Insults based on physique, race, color or creed are off base...except for Islamic fundamentalist....those towel headed camel jockeys are fair game.

Petitions on the municipal level won't matter. The farm assessment needs to be fixed on the state level.

ambrosiajr said...

I used Porky as in Pork Barrel funding, bringing home the bacon, so to speak...all the earmarks...and the over billing.
I would never stoop to appearance attacks...I'm 235 lbs. myself...with tons of grey, and very lucky that I've been married for over 25 years....

I know its done at the state level...but you have to start somewhere to get the ball rolling.

Honest Abe said...

I thought Kärcher was growing power washers!