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March 12, 2014

Appraisal district to review tax exemptions

CHEROKEE COUNTY — The Cherokee County Appraisal District (CCAD) is getting a jump on a bit of spring cleaning this year by updating its qualifications for the county's agriculture and timber special use valuations, more commonly known as ag tax exemptions.

District officials sent 1,893 certified letters out at the end of last month, informing Cherokee County property owners owning less than 11 acres currently receiving ag value that they need to reapply for an ag or timber valuation by April 30.

"The state mandates we send these letters certified," Chief Appraiser Lee Flowers said. "Due to the number of properties receiving these valuations countywide and the cost of sending applications by certified mail, we are beginning our audit this year with owners who have combined properties less than 11 acres."

Failure to respond by the April deadline will result in the removal of ag/timber valuation from the property and taxation of the property at its higher market value. District officials said Cherokee County property owners with larger tracts of land within Cherokee County that claim a special use valuation will also be required to reapply for that valuation in the coming years.

According to the district's website, special use valuations are allowed by the Texas Constitution "for the express purpose of preserving the family farm and for promoting agricultural use in the state. It was not intended as a tax break for owning excess acreage."

"Cherokee County has a long history of being extremely liberal in qualifying property owners for this exemption, and like any other privilege, it can be removed if abused," Flowers said. "We want to make sure we're keeping up with ever-changing laws and requirements and that the parcels of property receiving this exemption are doing so in accordance with the current laws."

The district's new guidelines include changes to minimum rates of production, stocking information and acreage sizes that are typical for this area. Another change requires any property producing timber has to have a timber management plan in place.

"Some counties require that plan come from a timber consultant, however I want to keep the process as simple as possible for property owners. We are not requiring a paid consultant, but we do expect the plan to incorporate the required elements and that you follow it."

Certain agriculture projects don't qualify, including personal gardens or orchards; 4-H or FFA projects; and non-producing livestock like horses kept strictly for pleasure or training, not for breeding.

"Feral hogs also don't count, unfortunately," Flowers said with a laugh.

A detailed guide concerning new qualification standards and a template for a timber management plan may be found on the CCAD's website, www.cherokeecad.com.

As CCAD officials review each application, property owners will be notified via certified letter if the parcel is denied the special use valuation under the new guidelines. If the appraiser needs more information, or if the application is granted, the notice will be sent by regular mail. Anyone denied this valuation can protest the denial to the Appraisal Review Board within 30 days of the postmark on the notice of denial.

Ag/timber special use valuation applications are available on the district’s website or at the Cherokee County Appraisal District office, 107 E. Sixth St., in downtown Rusk; or call the CCAD at 903-683-2296.

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