Thoughts on Ad Valorem Assessment of Conservation Lands: A Conversation with George Wheeler
George Wheeler is a 30 year employee with the Florida Department of Revenue. He currently serves as IDP Administrator in Classified Use Administration. His responsibilities as Senior Appraiser at DOR include the areas of agriculture/greenbelt, conservation, and working waterfront.
Since my recent article in the Florida Land Development News about property taxation and potential exemptions, I have received numerous questions about the treatment of conservation lands for ad valorem taxation. I first ran into this issue some time ago, and had the pleasure of working with George Wheeler with the Florida Department of Revenue to determine the best option for the landowner in that case. For this blog post, I imposed on George again and he was kind enough to chat with me about this rather misunderstood area of property taxation.
George has spoken at seminars on this issue across the state, which tells us two things off the bat: (1) he is considered a leading expert in these matters and knows his stuff, and (2) these issues are complicated enough to fill entire seminars so it is unlikely we can do more than scratch the surface in a blog post. But, here goes!
Our conversation started with George's gentle reminder that this is very parcel specific, and the terms of each conservation easement must be carefully reviewed to know how the property should be classified. There are two avenues for conservation lands under Florida law: an exemption and an assessment. The conservation exemption is found in F.S. 196.26 and provides a full or partial exemption for conservation lands depending on the terms of the conservation easement. In a nutshell, to qualify for the exemption you must:
- have a recorded instrument dedicating the land in perpetuity for conservation purposes;
- ensure the land area subject to the instrument (most commonly a conservation easement) is at least 40 contiguous acres or you must obtain approval from the state's Acquisition and Restoration Council; and
- disclose whether the recorded instrument allows for any agricultural activities on the property.
If bona fide agricultural purposes are permitted, you may qualify for a partial, but not a full, exemption.
The second avenue is a conservation assessment. This is provided for under F.S. 193.501 and grants a reduced assessment to lands subject to an instrument limiting the property for conservation purposes. This could be a conservation easement, but could also be designated by the local government as environmentally endangered lands, or have a conservation future land use designation, or be used for an outdoor recreational park purpose.
It is possible to seek multiple exemptions or assessment classifications on the same parcel if areas of the property are used for different purposes. For example, you may qualify for both an agricultural exemption and a conservation exemption on the same parcel if the conservation easement allows agricultural uses.
George's first comment to me during our conversation about this being a very parcel specific evaluation is worth repeating. I cannot say how much I enjoyed speaking with him about this, his passion and knowledge of conservation and agricultural lands in this state is nothing short of amazing!