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9 Investigates: Growers lose tax break as citrus greening destroys trees

WFTV – August 4, 2017

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Citrus greening is causing big problems for local growers.

Typically, farm property is given an agriculture classification that comes with a significant tax reduction.

Investigative reporter Daralene Jones learned some farmers are losing that classification as their property is being assessed.

She visited a farm owned by the family of Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd. The family’s roots are in the citrus industry, and it owns land in the Winter Garden area of Orange County.

“These are properties we’ve owned for well over 100 years in our family. The property is Valencia and navels,” Boyd said.

But in recent years, like so many Florida growers, the family business has been fighting citrus greening, a disease that leads to dead trees that don’t produce fruit.

There is a quite a bit of open space on the property, where trees used to stand, prospering and producing citrus. 

So when the Orange County Property Appraiser staff assessed the property to determine if it was eligible for an agriculture classification, it was denied.

“We’re just getting to the point where we can replant now,” Boyd said.

Boyd shared videos with 9 Investigates in which you can see trees being produced in South Florida. The family plans to ship those trees to Central Florida to replace ones that were destroyed by the citrus greening disease.

The Orange County Property Appraiser staff said the office is bound by the law, which states only Florida farms used for bonafide agricultural activities can be taxed based on the current use value versus its development value.

Orange County Property Appraiser records show 190 property owners applied for an ag classification last year.

So far, 62 have been denied, for a variety of reasons. The same records show 13 appeals filed by property owners.

Judy Malans’ family is one of them. Malans said she pays about $500 a year with the ag classification.
She has a 15-acre citrus farm in Windermere.

Days after her family received a letter revoking its ag classification, the family filed an appeal because, without the classification, it would be forced to sell it groves and its home. 

“It forces my mother-in-law to have to make a decision about whether she can stay in her home that she’s lived in for 40 years,” Malans said.

Boyd fought his reclassification and took to social media to speak out about the issue, and about a meeting he had with the Orange County Property Appraiser staff.

His ag classification has since been reinstated, but Malans’ fight continues.

“They don’t know anything about being a citrus farmer, and they don’t understand the sacrifice,” Malans said

In Polk County, where citrus is king, the property appraiser’s office implemented an internal policy last year, allowing farmers to keep the classification for up to five years, as long as efforts are underway to maintain and replant on the land.

The Orange County office said  they have no similar plan in the works.

Each appeal, if a grower files one, will be evaluated on an individual basis.

Property Appraiser staff also point out that the tax savings enjoyed by persons receiving agricultural classifications on their land are passed on, dollar for dollar, as a tax burden to Orange County’s other taxpayers.

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