Party lines not an issue on ag land task force

Farm Forum

PIERRE – The next big topics for the Legislature’s task force on agricultural property assessments will be native grasslands, small acreages and timberlands.

That might sound dull, but many millions of dollars in property taxes potentially are at stake.

The new chairman selected by the task force’s members is the first Democrat in that role. It’s Sen. Jim Peterson of Revillo, who farms in Deuel and Grant counties.

The Legislature in 2008 approved a giant change that based agricultural land values on productivity. Counties are coming into line at different paces. Nearly all of the 66 counties are on the mark for non-cropland. But on cropland, only 15 are within 10 percent of where they should be. Another 20 are within 20 percent.

That means nearly half of the counties face some big jumps when the system takes full effect for taxes payable in 2020.

Peterson won election the first time to the Legislature in 2000. He was among a group of new lawmakers, from different parts of South Dakota, who understood the old system wasn’t working. County assessors couldn’t find enough comparable sales of land to make accurate assessments.

Jim Lintz, R-Hermosa, won election in 1998 at the front of this wave. Peterson and Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, arrived next. Then came Dave Knudson, R-Sioux Falls, in 2002.

Rhoden won the House Republican leader’s post for the 2005 session. Lintz, a senator, was chairman of an interim committee on classification of real property in 2005.

For the 2007 session, Knudson, a lawyer, won the Senate Republican leader’s post. During the 2007 interim, Knudson and Rhoden led a committee that studied property tax assessments. The productivity system won approval in the 2008 session, with Rhoden as prime sponsor in the House and Knudson as lead sponsor in the Senate.

The system uses soil types and crop prices for setting values of cropland and a cash-rent approach for valuing non-cropland such as pasture. Peterson’s long-running goal is reducing the taxable value for natural grass growing in crop-rated soils.

The 2008 legislation created the task force to oversee and implement the new system. During a one-term break that Peterson took, he continued on the task force.

Knudson was the first chairman, followed by Rhoden. Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, nominated Peterson at the July 20 meeting.

“I guess I can’t pass, so I’ll say no,” Peterson said when the roll call came to him.

Rhoden said he couldn’t recall a minority-party legislator heading such a committee. He said it is appropriate because the focus is agriculture.

“It’s a lot more about the reality of life and the situations we’re in than it ever was partisan politics,” Rhoden said.

Peterson, now 70, said partisan politics never entered the task force’s deliberations. Rhoden, now 56, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014 rather than re-election. He is the task force’s vice chairman.

“Come on up here,” Peterson said. “I got to rely on that old boy to help this old guy out once in a while.”

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