Clean and Green Real Estate Tax Discounts
If you own property that is ten acres or more in size, you may be able to get a discount on your real estate taxes under the Pennsylvania Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act (Act 319), commonly known as “Clean and Green.” Under Clean and Green, properties of ten acres or more that are devoted to agricultural and/or forest land use are taxed based on their agricultural use value, or value of the property as agricultural land, rather than their fair market value. Not only does Clean and Green provide some tax relief to property owners, it also encourages property owners to retain their land for agricultural or forest use rather than development. Certain properties that are less than ten acres may also qualify if the property is used for agricultural use and the property owner can establish that the property has generated at least $2,000 of annual gross income from the production of agricultural commodities for the past three years.
Properties under Clean and Green are categorized as such:
- Agricultural Use – property used for producing an agricultural commodity or property that qualifies for compensation pursuant to a soil conservation program;
- Agricultural Reserve – noncommercial open space used for outdoor recreation or enjoyment of scenic beauty at no cost to the public; or
- Forest Reserve – property containing trees and capable of producing timber or other forest products.
Clean and Green tax benefits apply only to the portion of land that is used for one of these categories. Any residence, farm buildings, or other outbuildings located on the property are taxed at their fair market value. The agricultural use value for the qualifying portion of the property is combined with the fair market value of the non-qualifying portion to reach the total assessed value.
Once a property is placed in the Clean and Green program, the classification remains in perpetuity, unless the use of the property is changed. If a property owner later decides to change the use of the property so that it no longer qualifies, the property owner will be responsible for not only the increased tax assessment moving forward, but may also be liable for paying rollback taxes, plus interest. Rollback taxes are equal to the difference between the amount of reduced taxes paid under Clean and Green and the amount of taxes based on fair market value. In determining the total rollback taxes due, the County will look to the most recent seven years or the total period of time in which the property was enrolled in the program, whichever is less.
While the tax benefits of Clean and Green are a great incentive to preserve property, one must consider the future use of the property prior to enrolling in the Clean and Green program. If the decision is later made to develop or subdivide the property, the imposition of rollback taxes and associated interest can quickly erase any tax savings.
Sarah Murray is a real estate attorney, counseling property owners and buyers in residential and commercial transactions as well as land development.