PIERRE - The state's advisory task force on agricultural land assessment made two recommendations on Sept. 17 for the Legislature to consider in the 2013 session.
One would limit to 30 years the duration of conservation easements reached in the future.
The proposal wouldn't affect contracts already in place in South Dakota, such as perpetual easements with the federal government.
The other recommendation would allow a property owner to request an examination by the county director of equalization when land isn't being put to the highest and best use for its soil classifications.
The director of equalization would be required to consider whether the assessment should be adjusted based on a list of factors already in state law.
This provision most often would come into play when crop land is used for noncrop purposes, such as grazing or conservation.
I think this will provide more uniformity, task force member Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls said.
The assessments are the basis on which property taxes are levied for public schools and local governments.
South Dakota uses a productivity system for establishing assessments on agricultural land.
Yields, soil types, terrain, topography and surface conditions, and animal unit carrying capacity are the major factors used to set assessed values.
Assessments can be further adjusted for location, size, accessibility, climate and surface obstructions.
Kirk Chafee, the Meade County director of equalization, serves on the task force. He voted against recommending that directors, if requested by land owners, be required to determine whether any of those additional factors are reasons for adjustments.
Chafee said he doesn't know of any directors who have a no-change policy in their counties. It's sad we have to have this legislation, he said.
The task force has a mix of current and past legislators, as well as others with interests in how tax values are set for agricultural property.
The votes were 9-3 in support of the land owner rights legislation and 8-4 in favor of the 30-year limit on new conservation easements.
The 30-year cap came from the panel's chairman, Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center.
The task force shied from making a much larger recommendation that actual use should be the method for determining value rather than productivity potential.
Several members said the legislation being considered about actual use needed further work.
Knudson asked the state Department of Revenue to begin working on actual-use legislation for the task force to consider in 2013.
He echoed comments by Curt Everson, head of the South Dakota Bankers Association, that modern agricultural practices are allowing crops such as corn to be successfully grown in places previously thought unlikely in South Dakota.
Knudson said science essentially is producing more soils capable of supporting crops rather than only grasses.
Actual use is probably where we need to be in the long run, he said.
Jim Peterson, a farmer and former legislator from Revillo, agreed. He pushed for years in the Legislature for equalization directors to better recognize that soil type isn't the only determiner of crop ground.
He said the agricultural organizations need to reach 100 percent agreement for actual use to be adopted.
His comments came one hour after lobbyists for two major groups disagreed. The Stockgrowers supported actual use, while the Corn Growers opposed it.
You need a unified front, Peterson said. It needs cleaning up.
The productivity system was adopted because directors of equalization frequently had difficulty finding enough true sales of comparable farm and ranch ground to determine assessments.
One result was a shift of some tax load from grazing ground to crop land.
The task force will need an analysis from the Department of Revenue about the possible shifts if actual use was adopted, said Rep. James Schaefer, R-Kennebec.