If you have a green thumb, are a veteran or a longtime Montgomery County resident over the age of 65, you may be eligible for a new tax credit.
The County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved two bills that offer tax credits—one for residents engaged in urban farming and the other for older residents who have lived in the same home in the county for more than 40 years and military veterans.
Farming Tax Credit
The urban farming tax credit sponsored by council member Tom Hucker provides eligible residents with 80 percent off their property tax bills, provided they meet some fairly stringent standards.
To qualify for the credit, residents must own a property measuring one-half to 3 acres that’s zoned residential, and located within 1,000 feet of or inside a Metro policy area—such as downtown Bethesda or Rockville Town Center. The areas are defined by the county in its land use policy.
Urban farmers must also grow fruits, vegetables, flowers or ornamental plants, or raise chickens, bees or fish. Plus, the property owner must be able to show at least $5,000 in revenue from operating a so-called urban farm.
The revenue requirement is slightly flexible because property owners can also donate to charity produce or other items grown or raised at the farm valued at that amount.
Hucker proposed the bill after learning the story of Silver Spring urban farmers Charlie Koiner and his daughter Lynn Koiner who have cultivated a one-acre vegetable plot in the shadow of downtown Silver Spring for more than 40 years.
Hucker said county law provides lower taxes for farmers with more than five acres, but not for Koiner and his small farm in an urban location. He said Tuesday the credit will “avoid the arbitrary distinction that you’re not really a farm unless you have over 5 acres.”
Council member Nancy Floreen expressed some skepticism about the proposal. She said she was concerned some property owners would expand gardens beyond a modest use appropriate for a residential neighborhood and others could take advantage of the credit with inadequate farms that don’t provide a benefit to the local food scene.
“I don’t have a solution, I just have some concerns,” Floreen said.
Jeremy Criss, agriculture services manager for the county’s Department of Economic Development, said he will inspect the urban farms and “gauge the level of agricultural activity” before allowing property owners to take advantage of the tax credit.
Council member Craig Rice said he hopes residents take advantage of the tax credit and try their hand at farming. He noted that despite county efforts, many farmers in the agriculture reserve in the northern part of the county continue to engage in commodity farming—such as growing soybeans.
“Putting soybeans on the table is not what we need for a lot of our families here in Montgomery County,” Rice said. “Doing something like this is not about the existing farms … it’s about increasing the number of folks who can make a go of it.”
Tax credit for longtime residents:
The other credit approved Tuesday allows county residents who have lived in the same house for more than 40 years and who are 65 years or older to receive 20 percent off their property taxes for five years.
Only properties assessed at $650,000 or less are eligible for the longtime owner property tax credit.
However, the measure also includes a provision for residents who are military veterans. Veterans can qualify for the 20 percent tax credit if they live in a home in the county assessed at $500,000 or less. There’s no requirement in the bill’s language that the veteran reside in the county for a certain number of years.
“We want to do what we can to encourage people who love living in Montgomery County to continue to live here as they move on in life,” Floreen said.