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Property taxes top Farm Bureau legislative concerns
Assistant Editor

NEW CASTLE, Ind. — Following a breakfast hosted by Henry County Farm Bureau March 17, local farmers put three state legislators on the hot seat.

Answering questions for nearly two hours were Sen. Beverly Gard (R-Dist. 28), Rep. Thomas Saunders (R-Dist. 54) and Rep. Phil Pflum (D-Dist. 56). Most-discussed topics included property taxes and feeding operations.

Pflum brought up CFO/CAFO (confined feeding operations and concentrated animal feeding operations) legislation.
He is sponsoring the House version of the bill, passed by the Senate last month and currently in the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

Pflum supports setbacks for such operations not to be built within one mile of a city or town, which is more relaxed than the proposed two-mile restriction. He supports licensing on waste-handling and background checks, and said pork producers need to take the lead to show the public that farmers care about their concerns.

“I believe we can do this successfully,” he said. “Some say, ‘Well, we’ll leave this to the locals (to regulate).’ You can’t have a state, in my judgment, where you have two counties that just put a moratorium on it,” he gave as an example of uneven regulation.
Gard, who sponsored the senate bill, agreed on most points. The bill would establish a four-tier fee schedule based on animal populations and increase permit fees in order to pay inspectors.
“(Hog) producers tell me they want the bad actors out,” she said, explaining inspections are only every six to seven years now.
“Unlike Phil and Tom, I don’t support state-mandated setbacks, because I don’t believe one size fits all,” she added.

Gard consulted with Purdue University as well as producers and state agencies, and said regulations should be individual to geographical regions and local desires. Moreover, she said the state has left landfills to local governments, so why not this? Saunders believes state regulations should be in place at least until the environmental science is available for local governments to make individual decisions.

Property taxes outdated?
Property taxes are an ongoing debate because some property owners believe it is an archaic, unfair way to fund government. New Castle resident Eddie Hager said according to statistics compiled by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, assessed valuation in Henry County alone – which in 2003 was $1.7 billion – had gone up by $1 billion since 1997.

“I haven’t seen a billion dollars’ worth of investment in Henry County,” he said. “I don’t see how it went up.”
He explained there are people being taxed off their farms and others close to it, including Cordelia Wright of Spiceland. Wright, 90, helped operate a dairy farm for more than 65 years where she still lives, a 40-acre spread that has been in her family since 1820.
“Every year, I scrape together enough money to pay my taxes,” she said. “I do without things I actually need. And I’m not too happy with how my taxes are used.”

Gard replied there are 1,006 assessing entities in Indiana, and getting that many individual agencies to implement the same standards is difficult. Each time the legislature talks about putting responsibility on the state’s 92 county assessors, these majority entities protest and “all hell breaks loose.”

“I pay the same taxes you do,” Saunders said, noting while his property value decreased for resale over a period of years, his local assessment went up $20,000. The state, he said, is not telling local government to build new justice centers and schools – those are local decisions.

Corn checkoff pending
In February, the Senate passed a checkoff bill – sponsored by Gard – which would require Indiana farmers to pay a half-cent per bushel of corn into a pool for research, development and marketing of new corn products. Farm Bureau backs the measure, which is currently in the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures.

Pflum, its House sponsor, expressed frustration over the delay.
“I have to assume someone on our side of the aisle (Democrat) has a problem with it, and has enough influence to do something about it,” he admitted. A Farm Bureau member since age 21, he supports the checkoff, as do about 80 percent of farmers he has surveyed.

On putting it to a public referendum, he said, “I don’t care for that at all.” Gard agreed, saying it should come up for referendum to renew in five years – after farmers have a chance to see benefits. She said if the bill passes, affected farmers will have 180 days to claim a refund.

“People don’t understand the need,” said Tim Chapman, a corn and soybean farmer growing 2,500 acres in Sulphur Springs, “but we do need it for research and development, and new products. We don’t mind doing things safely (to comply with environmental regulations, as with ethanol), but we’ve got to be able to promote ourselves.”

This farm news was published in the March 21, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.