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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Farming for Tax Breaks

January 24, 2011 - 4:45 PM | by: Faith Mangan

A legal loophole is making it possible for a high number of people in exclusive and rather populated areas of Colorado to pay way less in property taxes than their neighbors.

Investigations by a state task force and the Denver Post revealed property owners in ritzy, metro suburbs as well as famous ski resort areas have slashed their tax bills by getting an agricultural classification for their land… even though the folks living there are not farmers or ranchers by trade.  Simply baling some hay in a back corner or keeping a few horses, does the job.  William Shutkin, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute and a Lecturer at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, explains: “The idea is to preserve the agricultural land, working landscape, especially in growing metropolitan regions. The flip side of the problem is when those laws are so loosely written that pretty much anyone and anything can qualify as agricultural.”

“Colorado’s always been one of the more liberal with regard to how we classify agriculture”, says State Representative Tom Massey.  Now Colorado, like many others, is badly in need of revenue, so Massey, a Republican with a background in real estate and development, is working to introduce a bill to clamp down on the practice.  “We’re all resistant to pay more taxes but we should all pay our share of equitable taxes, too.”  Other states have acreage minimums or strict requirements for proving ag income.

This isn’t the first time leaders have tried to tighten the rules here, but they’re more optimistic about getting changes passed this time around.  Chip Taylor of Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) says the agricultural community has taken a seat at the table, “only recently have they come to the realization that really people are abusing *their* classification in kind of a way that’s harming our state, a way that’s harming our ability to provide services.”

(see slideshow by Fox News videographer Lloyd Gottschalk)

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