2009-04-22 / Front Page

Forest land protection

Georgia forest land owners have been given extra time to assess the benefits of and to enroll in the Forest Land Protection Act. Senate Bill 55, signed into law last week by Gov. Sonny Perdue, extends the filing deadline for landowners from April 1 to June 1, 2009.

The bill also requires tax assessors establishing a property's fair market value to consider any decreased value of the land as a result of its being in a conservation easement.

Early County Tax Assessor Wynn Bush told the News that of approximately 116 property owners who qualify, 95 had already signed up for the FLPA program. The timber acreage signed up for the program totals approximately 65,000 acres.

Many of those property owners who signed up for the FLPA already had up to 200 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. They were able, on a one time basis, to transfer the timber land in those acres into the FLPA with their other acreage.

"That's a positive thing for us," Bush stated, "Because none of those exemptions were being reimbursed by the state." Those exemptions were directly impacting the taxes of other categories of the digest.

Instead of focusing on "highest and best use" land values, tax assessors must now consider diminished monetary values of forested land placed in conservation easements. Bush noted that those values are provided for each area of the state in tables provided by the Department of Revenue.

The filing extension allows landowners ample time to review tax implications as they apply to an owner's specific forest land.

Georgia voters approved the Forest Land Protection Act in November of 2008. It stipulates that landowners with more than 200 acres of contiguous forested property may receive significant property tax relief in exchange for agreeing to not develop the land for 15 years.

The act provides that the state will reimburse half of the first three percent of tax revenues lost by county government and school boards, and reimburse 100 percent of lost revenues over three percent.

Georgia recently reached a milestone for conservation by protecting its 100,000th acre under the Georgia Land Conservation Program. For more information about conservation easements and other conservationrelated issues such as tax implications, visit www.glcp.ga.gov or www.GaTrees.org.  

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