In 1978, the Vermont legislature passed a law establishing the Use Value Appraisal of Agricultural, Forest, Conservation and Farm Buildings Property. Today, this program is known as "Current Use" and is administered by the Division of Property Valuation and Review within the Vermont Department of Taxes.
The purpose of the law was to allow the valuation and taxation of farm and forest land based on its remaining in agricultural or forest use instead of its value in the marketplace. The primary objectives of the program were to keep Vermont's agricultural and forest land in production, help slow the development of these lands, and achieve greater equity in property taxation on undeveloped land. Benefits for land enrolled in the program were first distributed in tax year 1980.
Participation in the program has grown as it has evolved. The two most significant changes have been the inclusion of conservation land owned by qualifying nonprofit organizations and the exemption from all property taxes of eligible farm buildings. When an application is approved and recorded in the municipal land records, a lien is established on the enrolled land to recover a land use change tax should all or any portion of the enrolled land become developed.
To ensure that parcels with a use value appraisal are appraised by the local assessing officials consistent with the appraisals for non-enrolled parcels an annual audit is conducted on three towns with lands enrolled program. You can review the results of these findings in the Current Use Audit Report.
As of September 2016, there were more than 18,400 parcels of land enrolled totaling more than 2.4 million acres, about one-third of Vermont’s total land.
Requirements and Terms
Property must be managed according to the approved forest or conservation management plan and according to state standards. It will be inspected at least once every 10 years. The main objective in requiring a management plan is to assure that the land is managed carefully. It is not intended to force a landowner into a particular type of management. A private consulting forester may be asked to prepare, or help prepare, a management plan which meets the landowner's objectives as well as the state standards.
A management plan for forestland and conservation land also includes maps that meet the Current Use Program Mapping Standards. Agricultural land does not require a management plan but does require maps that meet the map standards. These maps are typically prepared by a consulting forester. The Vermont Center for Geographic Information (VCGI) has a number of shapefiles that are available for creating these maps.
A Forest Management Activity Report must be filed by Feb. 1 with the Vermont Department of Taxes to report any management activity which occurred in the previous year. The Department of Taxes will send the relevant FMAR data to the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. If you have any questions regarding your FMAR after it has been submitted, you should contact your county forester. Please wait 14 days after you have submitted the FMAR to contact your county forester.
Development and Penalties
Once land is enrolled, it is subject to a contingent lien. If this land is ever developed, a lien for the amount of the land use change tax is placed on the land. Once the land use change tax is paid, the lien is released. The land use change tax is calculated as 10% of the fair market value of the developed parcel or portion of a parcel. When a portion of a parcel is withdrawn or developed, the fair market value of the portion is determined by valuing the portion as a stand-alone parcel.
In this program, development includes any of the following:
- Transfer where one or more of the resulting parcels is less than 25 acres
- Construction of buildings, roads, or structures not used for forestry purposes
- Commercial mining, excavation or landfill activity, or cutting timber contrary to the management plan or contrary to state standards
The obligation to pay this tax runs with the land in perpetuity. The tax is not due unless and until the land is developed; however, it may be prepaid if the landowner wishes to clear the title.