What’s this thing called “Current Use”?

The Current Use law in New Hampshire provides a tax break for certain property owners who choose not to change the “current use” of their property to a higher level of development. However it shifts the tax burden to property owners who do not have property in “current use”. Here are some details.

  • In 1973, the NH Legislature created the Current Use law to “encourage the preservation of open space” by giving property owners a break on their taxes. (NH RSA 79-A:1)
  • The NH Current Use Board sets the level of “encouragement”. Today, current use landowners receive as much as a 98% discount on their property taxes.
  • This means that the other residents in town have to pay higher property tax to make up for the taxes not collected from properties in “current use”. (It’s a zero-sum game. If the legislature mandates a discount on taxes for some properties, the taxes have to go up for other residents.)
  • Many property owners have already permanently conserved land. Consequently they do not need additional encouragement (through a tax break) to preserve open space since development is already precluded.
  • In my town of Lyme, NH, it appears that 94% of all land in Lyme is either conserved or in current use. Discounts for current-use properties total over $1.5 million and add about $5 to our $27.19 per thousand tax rate.
  • Forty-five years later, we now understand the true effect of the Current Use law: in rural towns with lots of open space, it drives up the tax rate for all residents. The law has relatively little effect in more densely-developed, urban towns, since there are few current use properties.

The NH Current Use Board has opened a public comment period (for this year) about the proposed Current Use Assessment Ranges. Comments may be submitted in writing to Tracey Russo, Paralegal Department, NH Department of Revenue Administration by mail at PO Box 457, Concord, NH 03302; by fax at (603) 230-5932; or by e-mail at Tracey.Russo@dra.nh.gov. The deadline for the submission of written comments is Thursday, June 20, 2019.

I just sent an email to Tracey.Russo@dra.nh.gov along the lines below:

To the NH Current Use Board:

I am a resident of Lyme NH. I wish to submit a public comment to the Board regarding their regulations regarding Current Use.

Sincerely,

/s/ Your name

The NH Legislature could rewrite the Current Use law to make it more equitable. This is a long term project. However, I request the Current Use Board to consider the following changes to their regulations:

1) Add the requirement that land may not qualify for current use treatment if it is already has a permanent restriction from development.

2) Decrease the base discount on Current Use property, to create meaningful incentives for creating a stewardship plan or making the land available for the public to access.

3) Set different discount rates for current use land and permanently-conserved land. Permanently conserved land can be assessed at its market rate, while current use land can receive a temporary discount for the time that the land is in its current use.

I would encourage you to send your own message, using any (or all) of the points above. I would also like to know what you wrote: you can cc me at richb.lyme@gmail.com. Thanks!


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

1 thought on “What’s this thing called “Current Use”?

  1. Great Blog Rich! Thank you for doing this. I hope folks will use this to ask and answer questions about the New Hampshire Current Use Law.

    Just a few clarifications:

    For the 2018 tax year, Lyme’s Assessed Grand List (denominator of the tax rate calculation) was reduced by $78,668,350 for current use discounts (appraised value – assessed value). These discounts impact all four of the tax rate calculations (Municipal, Local School, State School and County). The resulting total increase in tax rates was $5.00 per thousand of assessed property value. That translates to $1,745,775. Because all property is subject to this $5.00 increase, even CU property owners pay higher property taxes under this funding tax scheme. Because 45% of CU property owners have relatively small amounts of land in CU, their discount is less than their overall tax increase due to all CU discounts in town.

    The deadline for written public comments was moved to the 23rd as a result of the rescheduling of the public forum from Monday to Thursday. The law requires 10 days from the close of the public forum

    Many of the changes that need to be made to improve the clarity and transparency of Current Use in NH will need to be addressed by the legislature. However, the law grants authority to the Current Use Board (CUB) to establish administrative rules, criteria, and assessment rates. My major issue for this round of rule and rate changes is for the board to include as a criteria for CU consideration, that a property must retain the right to be developed. If property is permanently restricted from development by a deeded conservation easement, it should not be eligible for 79-A current use assessment and a taxpayer funded “encouragement” discount. If a current use property becomes subject to such a conservation easement, that action should be a disqualify event and, by the current law, not be subject to the Land Use Change Tax (LUCT). Property owners of these properties can apply for tax savings under RSS 97-B Conservation Easement Assessment.

    I have also voiced my concern that the current model for determining the assessment rates should be more transparent and that the resulting 98% base discount is excessive and leaves no financial incentive to commit to a forrest stewardship plan or allow public recreational access. 40% and 20% of 2% remaining assessed value is not financially inticing.

    An illustrative example of these excessive discounts in Lyme is 520 Dorchester Road. A 370 acre parcel of forrest land. Last sold in 2016 for $1,300,000 currently appraised by the town assessor at $718,400 but assessed for tax purposes under Current Use at a mere $11,300.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.