Joco Opinion

Danedri Herbert — Appraiser’s office has taken leave of its senses

I’m not going to jail. And land my husband and I own will likely continue to be appraised for agricultural use, despite the fact that we have no intention of returning a survey from the Johnson County Appraiser’s Office.

More than 6,000 Johnson County landowners received letters from the appraiser’s office last month demanding they fill out a survey related to land they own. The survey requests the date of the land’s last harvest, what crop was harvested, number of acres of the crop and number of acreage dedicated to livestock as a business enterprise.

And that’s the least offensive part of the survey.

It also demands that property owners divulge whether they farm the land themselves or if they lease it. The questionnaire requests copies of documents including income and expenses related to farming, and if leased, the office demands a copy of the lease agreement and tenant information.

The letter suggest that survey is related to a state statute, but that’s not exactly accurate. There is a statute, requiring the county appraiser to “classify all agricultural land according to its current usage,” but the statute says nothing about providing income, expenses and tenant lease agreements.

In previous years, the appraiser’s office used zoning, building permits and things like driving by land to determine whether parcels were eligible for agricultural appraisal values.

The agricultural distinction is important to farmers and families. Agricultural land is appraised and therefore taxed at a much lower rate than other land uses, which are generally appraised at fair market value. The difference is dramatic, especially in Johnson County, where a single acre in the right place may be worth more than $39,000. (That’s the asking price per acre of one available parcel of land in Overland Park.) Meanwhile, agricultural land is valued at $200 to $300 per acre for taxing purposes.

The appraiser’s office sent the letters only to the owners of agriculturally zoned land that has been platted. The county requires that any property smaller than five acres be platted, but larger plots may also be platted as heirs divide farmland or developers make future plans for building on land currently used for farming.

New construction should require a building permit, but the survey is proactive, County Appraiser Paul Welcome said.

The agricultural land survey letter suggests that a failure to return the form and requisite leasing information, income and expenses may result in the loss of the all-important classification next year.

The deadline, Oct. 15, is highlighted in yellow, and the threat is in bold type. “A change in classification will result in significant change in taxable value,” it reads.

I’m certain there are hundreds of rule-followers rifling through their files to find their tenant-lease agreement or to determine how many acres of this or that they planted and when they harvested. I’m not one of those persons.

As far as I’m considered, the people in the county appraiser’s office have taken leave of their senses in making their overreaching requests, especially because their letter reveals that they know the land in question is being used for agriculture.

The letter includes a satellite photo of the parcel. The handy photo, sent by the appraiser’s office, clearly shows a field. And the people in the appraiser’s office agree because they’ve handily outlined and labeled the portion of the land that has crops.

If it’s apparent from outer space that the land is being used for crops, I see no reason why the appraisers down the street need to know how much my husband and I spent and earned with the property last year.

I recognize that there are landowners who abuse the agricultural-use designation, but that doesn’t give the appraiser’s office the right to demand information they don’t need to make the determination.

Fortunately, the survey is voluntary, though that all-important fact is missing from the letter sent to property owners. The appraiser’s office will continue to use building permits, street view and aerial photos to determine whether properties receive the agricultural-use designation.

There is at least one family that won’t be returning the survey.