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Schachtner defeats Jarchow in special election

Democrats seek to keep property tax break that preserves farmland

Wisconsin Senate Democrats are trying to stop city developers from taking advantage of a property tax break that's supposed to go to farmers. But the state's Farm Bureau says a good number of farmers would also lose the tax breaks they deserve under the use-value assessment law.

Housing developers say a change could drive residential land assessments sky-high.

The Senate's version of the new state budget would end the farmland assessment tax break on lands zoned for homes, businesses, and industries.

Majority Leader Russ Decker included the measure after getting complaints from city assessors.

The tax break was adopted in 1995 to keep farms viable, especially those near cities. It taxes farmland on its actual use, instead of its development potential for something like a future shopping center.

But assessors say the law is misused in the city. In Fond du Lac, assessor Donald Wegner says two commercial lots that should be assessed at

$636,000 are assessed at $900 instead, because winter wheat is planted on them.

Rich Eggleston of the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities says a developer is tilling two parcels next to the Metropolis Hotel to get the farm tax break.

They say it's not fair, because it makes homeowners pay what the developers get out of paying.

But Thomas Larson of the Wisconsin Realtors Association says developers are just trying to hang onto their vacant land until the economy gets better.

Lawmakers have yet to agree to a final version of the budget. That could happen this week.