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Agricultural Districts and Assessment

In 1971 the State Legislature enacted New York Agricultural Districts Law to protect and promote the availability of farmland within the State. The law provides for localities to form agricultural districts and on September 27th, 1982 Oswego County formed an initial agricultural district. Over the years more districts were added and eventually consolidated into Oswego County's Agricultural District 11 which comprises approximately 1,600 parcels totaling over 70,000 acres.

Each year, the County's farmland protection board meets at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Mexico to review applications for inclusion in the district. The Board's recommendations are then voted in by the County Legislature to amend the district and add the new parcels that requested inclusion. Every eight years, the Legislature must review and vote on whether to continue the agricultural district, modify the district, or terminate the district. The next eight-year review must be completed on or before September 27th, 2023.

A public hearing for the 2023 8-year review of the County Agricultural District was scheduled for June 15th, 2023. No persons wished to be heard and the Legislature unanimously adopted the proposed modifications to the agricultural district. 

What are the benefits of being in the agricultural district?
Agricultural districts provide a framework that helps limit local regulation on farming, protect farmers in the district from public nuisance suits under Right to Farm provisions, and limit the imposition of public benefit assessment and special ad valorem tax levies for the finance of improvements like water and sewer. Being in the agricultural district also impacts State agencies like Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Conservation (DEC) by modifying their ability to acquire farmland through eminent domain or to put forward financing for development that would negatively impact farmland. 
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How do I add a parcel to the agricultural district?
Every year in January you may submit an application to the Clerk of the County Legislature to request inclusion in the agricultural district. This designated "open enrollment" period runs from January 2nd - January 31st and is the only time period in which application can be made for inclusion in the agricultural district.

How do I remove a parcel from the agricultural district?
Since the agricultural district can only be amended every 8 years, the 8-year review process is the only time parcels may be removed from the district. During the 2023 review process this period of application was March 1st - March 30th, 2023. The next 8-year review will be in 2031. If your land is no longer being farmed there is no requirement that you apply to have it removed, land may stay in the district even if it's not actively farmed, however many of the benefits and protections under the law only apply to active farm operations and land currently used in agricultural production.

What is an Agricultural Assessment?
The agricultural assessment program exists for landowners to apply with their local assessor to receive a special assessment for their parcels. Land in this program is valued at rates set annually by New York State based on the land's soil content. As such, to enter into this program you must obtain a soil survey from the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District and submit that soil survey along with the application to your local assessor before March 1st. Once enrolled, the land's value will be capped at the sum of the annual soil rates and any excess land assessment is exempt from real property taxes. An annual renewal is then required to remain in the program. Note that any buildings are not included in this calculation, but farm building exemptions may be available to you.

Am I required to have my parcel in the district to get an agricultural property tax exemption?
No, agricultural exemptions are merely the taxable amount of a property's assessment that exceeds an agricultural assessment for parcels enrolled in the program. This process is identical whether or not your property is in the County Agricultural District.

Is there a penalty if I convert my land to non-agricultural use?
If you have not received an agricultural exemption there is no penalty for converting. If you enter into the Agricultural Assessment program and receive an exemption and your land is within the County's Agricultural District, you must wait 5 years before converting to a non-agricultural use to avoid paying a penalty for such conversion. If your land is outside the County Agricultural District you must wait 8 years before converting to avoid paying a penalty.
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Does being in the Agricultural District prevent me from developing my land as residential or commercial?
The agricultural district is not a restrictive district in the same sense as local zoning. The purpose of the district is to protect and promote viable farmland and to encourage farming as a worthwhile and profitable enterprise. If you enter into the district and later decide to convey your property to a non-farmer, convey a part of your land to be developed for commercial use, or you decide to stop farming altogether, inclusion in the district would not restrict these decisions.