Assessor waiting for clarification on poultry tax rates

For now, poultry farmers in Madison County will not see their tax assessments increase, according to Assessor Will Jones.

Madison County Assessor Will Jones said he plans to keep tax assessments where they are on poultry houses, until more clarification comes from the Arkansas Legislature.

In 2017 the Assessment Coordination Department found that inequalities existed in the state for assessments on poultry houses. In 2018 the ACD said new assessments would go into effect, raising rates for Madison County poultry farmers.

Jones said there are 329 poultry houses in Madison County.

After poultry farmers contacted representatives, lawmakers held a meeting in 2019 to seek more information from the ACD.

Under the 2018 changes, rates would go from $4.50 per square foot on broiler houses to $9; $9.29 to $18 for layer houses; $4.95 to $10 for breeder houses and $3.58 to $9 for turkey houses.

The change was seen as a future hardship for poultry farmers in the state.

District 82 State Rep. Sarah Capp of Ozark became one of the lawmakers contacted by poultry farmers. Her district includes a portion of Madison County.

In June, Capp said, “I understand we need to go about it differently, but the way that things are taxed in Washington County, it should be much different in Madison County and vice versa. A chicken house isn’t the same value in different areas of the state, so the way they are going about it with the square footage, I don’t think is accurate.”

Just recently, District 6 Rep. Gary Stubblefield wrote an Interim Resolution on the matter at the Arkansas Legislative Council Committee, where it passed.

Capp said the resolution next will go to Revenue and Taxation. She said, “Hopefully we can have a meeting in January.”

Numerous counties around the state sent out new assessment notices, while others have taken the approach of holding pat.

Jones in 2019 said that because of state requirements, the valuation of contracted poultry houses would increase by 10 percent each year over the next 10 years, which will be collected starting in 2021.

Arkansas law prohibits an increase of more than 10 percent per year on the valuation of a property.

“I think I’m just going to leave everything like it is,” Jones said last week. “I don’t know what any other assessors are doing, but I’m just going to wait until I get more ... definite direction from the Legislature. I’m just leaving everything alone until I get more direction from the Legislature.”

Jones added, “That’s my course of action at this time. I’m waiting for Legislative clarification.”

When the Joint Performance Review Committee met with the ACD in September 2019, it heard from assessors, poultry farmers and ACD officials.

ACD Executive Director Bear Chaney testified that department officials spoke with industry appraisers and lenders to arrive at the value of $9 a square foot.

Chaney said the agency found poultry house values in Arkansas ranged from about $2 per square foot to $10 per square foot. The department for over two decades has recommended a value of $4.50.

Many county assessors sent out notices after the ACD changed its rates to $9 per square foot, while others, including Madison County, did not.

“I’ve put it off until 2020, which is the last year to do it, to see if there’s going to be any changes between now and the time we’ll have them on the books, which will be sometime early next year,” Jones said last year.

According to Stubblefield’s resolution, “The assessors are not required to use the exact new values” that were put in place by the ACD.

The resolution says, “the General Assembly can and should set a method of valuation for poultry houses that would make assessments equal and uniform throughout the state.”

Stubblefield’s resolution proposes that the Legislative Council urge the ACD to “amend the guidelines and rates issued in 2018 ... to eliminate confusion among county assessors and property owners. ...”

Jones said, “I figure we’ll get more clarification from our legislators in the future. I don’t want to use my numbers, or use their numbers and then the Legislature give us their numbers.”

He said, “If the Legislature, if they can get together and come up with their own numbers, that’ll be the final say. ...”

Jones said Stubblefield’s resolution is another reason to keep assessment rates where they are.

Jones said Madison County farmers were likely to be affected more than new operations in eastern Arkansas.

“We’ve always had poultry houses, so it’s a little bigger starting point here. They were used to the old numbers,” he said.

New operations only saw the new numbers for tax assessment.

“Based on this, too, I’m just going to wait for some Legislative guidance.”

Capp has announced that she will not seek reelection to the House, but will instead seek a full-time district court position to serve in Johnson and Franklin counties.

Republican Mark Berry and Democrat Gwen Ford Faulkenberry, both of Ozark, will face off in November for Capp’s spot in the House.

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