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Hays Commissioners act to boost conservation easements

Thursday, April 3, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

Hays County Commissioners have approved a resolution supporting the preservation of open space that the commissioners hope will make it easier for citizens and organizations to donate their land for conservation easements. By advocating that the Appraisal District lower the amount of acreage required to change a parcel of land’s special valuation from agricultural to wildlife, they hope to encourage more transfers to a wildlife management valuation.


The resolution, which passed unanimously, includes statements declaring the benefits of conservation easements. The letter details the recent $30 million bond, the $753,750 Regional Habitat Conservation Planning and Assistance Grant from 2005, and the intent to use that money to “promote and encourage the protection of the open space land in Hays County.” In doing this, the court’s letter fulfills a requirement of the tax code that governs whether a donated easement can merit a refund.


There are four general purposes that can be met to receive the tax benefits. The resolution satisfies the requirement that the land’s purpose is “pursuant to a clearly delineated Federal, State, or local governmental conservation policy.”  The commissioners hope that since this option is now available to Hays County residents, there will be an increase in conservation easement donations. Tom Hall, an attorney with Braun and Associates told the court that the resolution would “help those easements qualify for federal tax refunds.”


The resolution states that the county will do this in part by “appointing representatives to the Appraisal District Board of Directors who support the open space policies” of the county. Complimenting this pledge is “encouraging the …Directors to lower the amount of acreage required to move into wildlife management valuation.” Reducing the amount of acreage would make it easier for large landowners to subdivide their property into more numerous parcels to which can be transferred the tax friendly special valuation.


In order for a parcel of land to receive this special wildlife valuation, it needs to first have been an agricultural valuation. These special valuations allow properties to be assessed at a rate commensurate to its productive capacity rather than its market price, effecting what some liken to a tax break for the property. 


Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford indicated that property owners would much rather live on a wilderness tract as opposed to an agricultural one. She also said that the livestock and heavy farming of the land were not beneficial to the ecology, especially in the recharge zone of the Trinity or Edwards aquifer. 


Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton told the court “We want to encourage rural subdivisions. And we do have these incentives that encourage that.” Currently, wildlife valuations must be a minimum of 20 acres owned by one individual. If two or more landowners combine their properties under an organization or co-op, the minimum each landowner must contribute is 12.5 acres. Ford said that the state mandated minimum was 16.5 acres per individual, and said that lowering the acreage would “encourage some rural development, we certainly hope that it would.” She said that less dense subdivisions could be a potential asset in the long-term development of Hays County.

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