Poultry growers in the area are concerned about a proposed property tax increase on poultry houses, but at least one state legislator told growers that there might be legislative help in the works.

About 100 people from northern Arkansas attended a meeting last week sponsored by the MO-ARK Poultry Growers’ Association LLC to address the proposal.

Boone County Assessor Brandi Diffey explained to the crowd that the issue began in August 2018 when she received an email from the Arkansas Assessors Coordination Division, or AACD, that stated property taxes on poultry houses would have to be uniform across the state. That would mean a substantial increase in valuation of poultry houses.

She said the AACD will audit each assessor’s office twice a year to find out how much the county values poultry houses. If valuations are too low, the AACD can withhold funding from her office, which is necessary for operations.

She said growers can supply her office with expenses, such as construction and equipment costs, to help offset the increase as much as possible. The county can also use information regarding sale of poultry houses in the area to justify a reduction in cost.

Diffey said the assessor’s office will not go on a poultry grower’s property to avoid spreading disease from flock to flock. So, it will be up to the grower to supply information to her office. Non-operational houses are valued at the rate of a pole barn, which is lower than a hay barn.

She said the change doesn’t take effect until 2021, with those taxes due in 2022, and growers will get a notice regarding the final valuations.

State Rep. Jack Fortner (R-Yellville) also addressed the crowd and gave them news they might not have wanted to hear.

Fortner explained that the issue began between two state legislators. One of them is a poultry producer and the other had a lot of producers in his district. Growers in one district were paying property taxes on a value of about $2 per square foot, while the other district’s valuations were at $10 a square foot.

Needless to say, growers wanted to know why and the matter was eventually taken to AACD director Bear Chaney. That’s when the process began.

The issue revolves around the state constitutional provision that all property in the state be valued equally for the purpose of taxation. The AACD did a study of poultry house costs around the state and region to determine the base for valuations and avoid a constitutional battle.

Still, Fortner told Diffey and other assessors present that they have the final say on valuations of property in the county.

“Now, does AACD push and shove and poke?” Fortner asked about the threat of withholding funding from assessors’ offices. “You bet. That’s a bad choice of words, but I guess it is. They do. That’s the only thing they can threaten them with.”

And even though assessors do have the final say on valuations, they comply with AACD requirements because they need every penny they can get to run their offices.

Jim Milum, a Boone County justice of the peace and former state legislator, asked Fortner if the new AACD regulations had been approved through the Rules and Regulations Committee and then through the Legislative Council.

State Sen. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville) took up that question. He agreed that no agency can enforce new regulations without legislative approval.

Ballinger sent out a letter stating the new valuation process is not a regulation because it hasn’t been through the process as yet. Assessors got that letter, along with the threat of losing AACD funding, and are trying to comply with AACD.

He said there are a number of legislators prepared to address the matter. Ballinger said the bad news was that the legislature doesn’t go into regular session again until 2021, but that’s also the good news: It can be addressed before the proposal becomes an official regulation.

“We will go in there and we’ll yank their chain,” Ballinger said. “We’ll go in there and fix this.”

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