Matthew Renda

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March 12, 2013
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Agricultural program sparks board debate

A board disagreement over a land-use issue emerged during Tuesday’s meeting of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.

The board voted 3-2, with Supervisors Nate Beason and Hank Weston in the minority, to postpone plans to stop temporarily the approval of new “Williamson Act” contracts.

The Williamson Act, also known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, allows for property tax relief to agricultural land owners in exchange for conservation easements placed on their land.

Beason said the program should be temporarily suspended because the state has ceased funding the program.

In the past, the state would make up the difference in the county general fund for any tax revenue that was lost as a result of contracts with farmers and ranchers. This program has been abandoned as the state has encountered fiscal difficulties.

“We have to be careful as these institutions keep chipping away at the health of the general fund,” Beason said.

Supervisor Ed Scofield said he is sensitive to how difficult farming is as an occupation in the present environment and would like to retain the ability to hand out contracts on a case-by-case basis, something that would be difficult if the board suspended the program.

Beason said continuing to award contracts without state support would be tantamount to encouraging the state to rely on local entities for funding of programs they generate.

Supervisor Richard Anderson said the program was not solely a state program but also a local one, resulting in a debate between Beason and him.

“It has utility for rural counties like us to protect agricultural uses in our unincorporated areas,” Anderson said. “It has, can and will provide benefit to our local farmers.”

Beason said the act will not provide a large benefit, as it was intended — in 1965 — to provide relief to large farmers with enormous acreage in counties with much more agricultural industry than is currently on the rolls in Nevada County.

“If we’ve got 7,500 acres in Nevada County, I don’t think we are protecting (agriculture) on this,” Beason said.

He further stated the general plan protects agricultural uses and not the Williamson Act.

The county currently has 27 Williamson Act contracts in place, annually resulting in about an $120,000 net loss of tax revenue to jurisdictions that receive portions of collected property taxes.

The impact to the general fund is about $17,000 in lost revenue.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call 530-477-4239.

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The Union Updated Mar 13, 2013 03:35PM Published Mar 14, 2013 02:04PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.