Baillie is building her case from Real Property Tax Law defining 10-year and permanent agricultural tax exemption.
“The government says farm-grain or forage-crop structures are not taxable; neither are handling facilities,” Baillie explained.
“The provision for 10-year exemption speaks about sale of agricultural products. But we aren’t selling hay. The Lewis Family Farm has handling facilities and granary structures that have been taxed by the Town of Essex.”
Lewis asserts forage storage areas are not taxable.
“In our case, the barns are, in fact, storage. We store the straw. We store the hay. When you are a grass-fed farm operation — and we’re USDA certified grass-fed beef — we store grass in units that will feed 24 animals in one unit. We’re making food here. Our product isn’t taxed.”
The law applies directly to two new barns built on the Lewis Farm in 2011 with values given by town assessors at almost a $200,000 increase.
“Those are handling facilities that shouldn’t be taxed,” Baillie said.
The tax complaint also challenges valuation of two unfinished farmworker houses assessed for full residential use, Lewis said, even though there is no electrical service or plumbing in them.
Lewis said the town assessors didn’t visit the property or walk through the structures.
FARM HIRES APPRAISER
An appraiser hired by Lewis Family Farm initially valued the land, its buildings and farm housing at $1.8 million total, a number nearly $4 million less than the assessed value given by the town.
“The town is so dysfunctional in its approach to this tax work that the best chance we had to get any kind of progress was to allow the town’s attorney, Mark McNamera, an opportunity to see the farm appraiser’s work,” Lewis said of the ongoing process.
Court documents show that the town has offered to drop the main farmhouse property value to $129,000 and the farmland and attendant farm structures’ value to $2.3 million.