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'Farmers' such as Tom Cruise get tax break

Some states, such as Colorado, don't require much farming to get a tax-saving agricultural exemption.

By Kay Bell Mar 9, 2011 6:29PM

Want a lower property tax bill in Colorado? Get yourself a couple of sheep. Or grow a little hay.


That's all it takes to earn an agricultural designation by the state. You don't really have to be a farmer or a rancher, just play one and that will get you the much lower property tax rate Colorado created for the agriculture sector.


The Denver Post lists the wide array of so-called Colorado agronomists who have "secured low property taxes through agricultural designations on land they own even though they personally have little or nothing to do with producing food."


Among those the newspaper cites as benefiting from being deemed owners of agricultural property are actors Tom Cruise, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, a network television executive and his former-actress wife, an energy industry billionaire, a professional blackjack player turned media mogul, a ski gear inventor and a Colorado state senator.


In many cases, the land where these folks' homes (which usually are second, third or fourth residential properties) are located actually once was a working ranch or farm, reports the Post. But the original owners sold the parcels off to today's "gentlemen ranchers."


And hundreds of those ranching and farming impostors are still getting the original tax break. They keep a few livestock around or a small patch of land planted with a crop, allowing them to reap the rewards of the Colorado law and cut their annual taxes from thousands of dollars to two-figure amounts.


Now I wouldn't call these folks tax cheats. They are just taking advantage of a loophole big enough to drive a tractor, which they'd have is they were real farmers or ranchers, through.


But they definitely are violating the spirit of the law.


And I suspect that Colorado lawmakers, except for maybe the state senator who's getting the ag tax break, are already working on legislation that more strictly defines what does and doesn't qualify for tax purposes as an agricultural operation.


Real property tax relief exists


Texas has a storied ranching heritage. And it exempts from sales tax some agricultural property transactions.


But when it comes to property taxes, it doesn't appear that the Lone Star State has a tax break for agricultural land similar to that in Colorado.


That's too bad, since a goat or two could keep our yard -- and property tax bill -- under control while simultaneously fertilizing the lawn!


And even if there were such a state or county tax exemption here, I know our homeowners' association wouldn't like a farm animal on our suburban lot, although a goat is smaller than some of our neighbors' dogs.


But there are other ways to reduce residential property taxes.


Make sure you're getting your area's homestead exemption. This knocks off a bit of your home's assessed value so that the tax bill on the property is less.


In some locales, once your deed is registered the exemption is automatic. But not always. So check with your local tax assessor-collector about the process where you live. If you need to apply for a homestead exemption, do so.


Most jurisdictions also offer additional property tax exemptions based on age, income or even former military service. Check out the possibilities in your area and find out which you qualify for and and how to apply for them.


And if you find that even with exemptions, your property tax assessment is larger than you think it should be, appeal it. The extra work could help you shave a substantial amount off your property tax bill.


More from Don't Mess with Taxes and MSN Money:

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43Comments
Mar 9, 2011 7:42PM
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This is stupid...slow news day using Cruise's name as click bait. I personally cant blame Tom, he's got a good tax guy.
Mar 9, 2011 7:39PM
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This tax is meant for struggling farmers, not the rich, just another way of getting around paying taxes.  I live in a small farming community that is being eaten up my new housing that are sitting empty and the developers are getting this tax break.  This makes me sick to my stomach.  The thought of Tom Cruise even getting his finger nails dirty is a joke!  This needs to be changed and help the farmers that truly need the help not the wannabe's.

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