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Environmentally Sensitive Land Gets Tax Relief
A Georgia tax program has been offering breaks to a number of forest and farm landowners for years. But there haven't been as many takers as there could be.

Property Tax Facts

The program, called "Conservation Use Valuation," has been in effect since 1992, said Coleman Dangerfield, an Extension Service forest economist and professor in the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forest Resources.

"CUV was created," Dangerfield said, "in response to concerns about urban sprawl, land use transition and resulting environmental impacts from these changes."

Tax Relief on Farm, Forest Land

It also provides tax relief for many qualified farm and forest landowners. "Under CUV," he said, "a landowner signs a 10-year covenant with the county to receive current-use, as opposed to fair-market, valuation of the property for tax purposes."

Unique to the CUV program, he said, is environmentally sensitive property. In this classification, qualified landowners agree to keep environmentally sensitive land in its natural condition for 10 years.

"Incentives include a property tax assessment based on the land's existing or current use," Dangerfield said. "This is also called conservation use assessment. Normally, assessment is based on the highest and best use."

Five Conditions on Tax

To qualify for the lower tax assessment, the land must meet five conditions.

  1. The landowner must qualify to participate in the conservation use program.
  2. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources must certify that the land is environmentally sensitive, as defined by state law.
  3. The DNR must also certify that the land is in its natural condition.
  4. Each landowner can place up to 2,000 acres of land in the program.
  5. The landowner must enter a legally binding, 10-year agreement with the local taxing authority to maintain the land in its natural condition.
Eligible Land

To be eligible as environmentally sensitive, Dangerfield said, the land must be at least one of the following:

  • Steep mountain slopes and the mountain tops that lie above them.
  • Wetlands.
  • 100-year flood plains.
  • Habitats that contain endangered or threatened species of plants or animals.
  • Significant ground water recharge areas.
  • Undeveloped barrier islands or portions of them.
How, When to Apply

Applications for current-use assessments, including environmentally sensitive land, must be filed with the county tax assessor by the deadline for filing county ad valorem tax returns. That's usually from Jan. 1 to March 1.

If the property must be reassessed by the board of tax assessors, you can file for current-use assessment in conjunction with or in lieu of an appeal of the reassessment.

The Georgia Department of Revenue's Property Tax Division Web site has more information about CUV or other tax breaks, including specifics on your county. You may call them, too, at (404) 656-4240. Or contact your county Extension Service agent.

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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