Deadline looms for owners to quit farmland program
A deadline looms for Sutter County farmland owners — now getting tax breaks for not developing their property — to opt out of the program if they don't like new terms set by state law and put in place by the Board of Supervisors.
The Sutter County Community Services Department mailed notices on Oct. 11 to 144 landowners participating in the Williamson Act conservation program telling them they have 60 days to opt out of the program if they do not want to participate under new terms. Those terms include a 10 percent reduction in the annual tax break they receive.
Property owners who do not opt out will automatically be enrolled in the program for nine years, which is the other change in terms. Those who opt out must continue to keep their property undeveloped and will receive tax breaks until the original 10-year contract term has expired, Sutter County said.
State lawmakers passed the Williamson Act in 1965 following the rapid loss of farmland to development in California after World War II. The measure is intended to reward property owners for voluntarily keeping their land open space.
In Sutter County, which has been a Williamson Act county since 2001, 51,256 acres of prime agricultural land and 13,165 acres of nonprime ag land are enrolled in the program.
Budget issues in recent years led the state to cut Williamson Act funding, the county said. In 2009, the last year of full funding, Sutter County received reimbursements of $269,444. In 2010, however, the state budgeted a total of $1,000 for all counties participating, resulting in a payment of $7.67 to Sutter County.
Sutter County received no payments last year.
As an increasing number of counties considered exiting the program altogether, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1265, which changes the terms of Williamson Act contracts and allows counties to recoup a portion of property tax revenue.
The Sutter County Board of Supervisors last month adopted a resolution implementing the legislation and directed that notices be sent to property owners informing them of the changes in terms and their ability to opt out or remain in the program.