land use

Maine Current Use Tax Programs

Maine has four current use programs to reduce taxes on land that is used primarily for a specific purpose. The four programs are tree growth, open space, farmland, and working waterfront. The following is a brief explanation of each program with links to guide you to more detailed information.


Tree Growth Tax Law 
The most commonly used current use tax program in Maine is the Tree Growth tax program. It may also be one of the most misunderstood. The basis of the program is to assess land of 10 or more acres based on its productive use as commercial timberland. Growing and harvesting must be the primary use.
During 2017, Maine’s Tree Growth tax program came under the scrutiny of the governor’s office as did most 
property tax reductions. It is believed, and probably rightly so, that a significant percentage of the properties enrolled in this program may not be in compliance with the law. In order to be in compliance, your forest management plan needs to be up to date and implemented. If you have purchased forestland in Maine and you have never talked with a licensed forester you may already be out of compliance. Bulletin 19 on the state website provides information for those already in the program and those considering enrolling. The link below is bulletin 19 
Bulletin 19 

Farmland Tax Law
This tax law requires the land to be used for agricultural or horticultural purposes and must be of 5 or more contiguous acres. The land must earn at least $2,000 gross income per year to 
qualify. The owner must file an income statement with the assessor by April 1 of each fifth year, after qualification, for the previous 5 years income of the owner or lessee.
The assessor can use a number of factors to determine farmland values for current use 
including farmer to farmer sales, soil types, land rents, and others. For additional information on this tax law see Bulletin 20 link

Bulletin 20                                                        

Open Space Tax Law
This program provides for a reduced assessed value based on the property being preserved or 
restricted for a public benefit. Qualifying public benefits include recreation, scenic resources, game management and wildlife habitat. The open space program does not have a minimum 
acreage requirement. In open space the tax assessor will reduce the value by either researching sale data of parcels all or partially in conservation or preservation and computing a fair value, or by applying a percentage reduction based on the public benefit or benefits being applied. The reduction, depending on the benefit, can be as high as 95% of the assessed value. See Bulletin 21 at this link. 

Bulletin 21

Working Waterfront
Land that qualifies for this current use tax treatment is for land on tidal waters or in the 
intertidal zone used at least 50% for access or support of commercial fishing activities.
The assessed value reduction varies from 10%, 20% or 30% depending on the percentage of use and potential deed restrictions for use. See all the details on the state site for Working Waterfront Q&A at: https://www.maine.gov/revenue/forms/property/pubs/workingwaterq&a.htm

Moving Sideways 
If you desire to change the use of your property under any of the first three laws above you can avoid any penalty for that change of use. Property changed from farmland to open space, farmland to tree growth, open space to farmland, or open space to tree growth will not be 
penalized if a parcel also meets eligibility requirements of the new classification. 
 

         

Purchasing Land By Soil Type – Understanding Soil Surveys

When you are in the market to purchase land one important consideration is soil quality.  Your soil considerations should be based on the intended use for the land. Do you want to grow crops, graze animals, manage timber, provide recreation opportunities or conserve wildlife, wetlands and other sensitive features? The higher the soil quality the better crops and trees will grow. These will be better drained sites for constructing homes and cabins as well.

The U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has provided a plethora of information online at Web Soil Survey. The online data is complex. Some soil knowledge or basic mapping skills are necessary to navigate this site. We, at United Country Lifestyle Properties of Maine, have made this process easier for our customers and clients through the use of mapping software that simplifies the NRCS data into an easy to understand soil report.

Soil Types

NRCS has identified more than 70,000 soil types in the United States.   Maine has soil types such as Monarda, Dixmont, Howland, Thorndike, Bangor and many others. The types or series of soils will be abbreviated on maps and reports such as Mo for Monarda or Ba for Bangor. Soils are given compound names such as Bangor silt loam. The first part of the name, Bangor, refers to the soil type. The second part, in this case silt loam, refers to the structural texture of the soil. You can find a soil triangle like the one below online to help determine the texture. I’m not going to discuss the various simple to complex testing methods that can be done for soil texture, you can Google search this topic and find a number of articles and videos showing these methods.  Here is a link to a simple jar method. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/soil-texture-analysis-the-jar-test/  

Capability Classes

Soil types are assigned classes from I to VIII based on their suitability for agriculture. They are also assigned subclasses based on their limitations of e,w,s, and c which stand for erosion, water, shallow or droughty and cold climate.

Capability Classes I – VIII with I being most desirable. Classes I-IV will support most types of cultivation and V-VII do not support cultivation but can accommodate forestry and grazing. Class VIII land does not support cultivation, grazing or timber production and includes cliff faces and other rock outcrops, beaches, river and creek beds.

 

Understanding Soil Code

Looking at a soil type map for the first time is Greek to most people. But with use of the NRCS Websoil Survey or a mapping platform such as Mapright, these codes will become easy to use. So, the next time you see BaC 3e, you can refer to the capability view and know that this is Bangor Silt Loam with 8-15% slopes and the limiting factor to its agriculture productivity is its propensity for erosion. It can be used for growing crops as long as a lot of conservation measures are used. It probably is better suited to grazing and would certainly grow trees very well.

While doing due diligence in the review of a specific property, don’t eliminate it just because it has class IV – VIII soils, they have value, just not to a farmer. Most of Maine has some limitation to its soils from rocks to slopes to bedrock and so on. Class I and II soils with no limitations are rare and expensive.

Limitations

Like most online data, the US NRCS soil mapping has limitations and localized exceptions will be found on most every site. These reports should not be replaced with an on-ground inspection of individual properties. If soil conditions are critical to your intended use of the property, a soil professional should be consulted.