Dan Sparks: Working together to protect farms

Published 8:00 am Sunday, February 15, 2015

Eric Olson from KSMQ in Austin testifying in committee this week with Senator Dan Sparks. Photo provided

Eric Olson from KSMQ in Austin testifying in committee this week with Senator Dan Sparks. Photo provided

By Dan Sparks

State Senator, District 27

In the last 10 years, Minnesota farmers have seen significant increases in their property taxes. While this has become an economic burden, it’s also incredibly inequitable when compared to the property tax increases experienced for residential homesteads and commercial/industrial property over the same time period. These soaring property taxes are overwhelming our hardworking rural landowners. In response, I joined members of both parties to introduce legislation to exempt farmland from construction levies.

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The Minnesota Family Farm Protection Act is all about fairness. When a levy is approved by voters, the average city homeowner can expect a property tax increase to cost hundreds of dollars each year. However, an approved levy can cost the average farmer thousands of dollars per year, depending on the number of acres they own. The farm protection act would exempt farmland and limit future property tax liability to a farmer’s house, garage and one acre of land.

This exemption provision already exists for school operating levies, but not for building or repairs requests. This proposed legislation would apply to construction levies offered by schools, cities and counties — all in an effort to be more equitable.

High property values for farmland is a good thing, but we need to have a discussion about fairness. This bill will be part of that conversation. Minnesota family farms are a vital part of our state economy; they should expect fairness in the property tax system.

I also presented a bill this week to the State Departments and Veterans Division about securing more money for KSMQ, Austin’s public television station. As the only remaining TV station in the city, investment in technology and its long-term success is more important than ever. KSMQ’s president Eric Olson testified along with me at this week’s hearing about the need for money to upgrade the station. Olson said the station has already received a generous $100,000 grant from the Hormel Foundation, which is a big help toward the total project cost.

KSMQ is the last of the five Minnesota-based public television stations that still needs to upgrade to high definition. An HD signal will allow the station to be seen on higher-tier cable and satellite packages by more residents. My bill would appropriate money for public television stations across the state, part of that funding will be allocated to KSMQ to help it finish its HD upgrade project. Preserving and upgrading existing infrastructure in our communities is an important duty of the state legislature.

If you have questions regarding these or other matters, please contact my office at 651-296-9248.