To say that this post has been delayed is more than an understatement. But, sometimes life gets complicated. Sometimes your husband lands in the hospital (he’s fine now), sometimes friends get married out of state, and sometimes urgent projects pop up with little notice.
In Part 1 I talked about the mistakes Justin and I made with our property taxes and what we’ve learned in the process of fixing them. Today, I plan to tell you about the timber management plan I drafted that got our property re-classified at the lower agricultural rate.
What It Is
A timber (or natural resources) management plan is submitted to a government in order to lay out how a resource/resources on a given property will be administered over a period of time. The government knows that the parcel will be cared for, so in turn, they give the owner a break on their taxes. Win – win. This is a document which is typically drafted by professional foresters (for a fee) but it is possible to compose your own (which is what this determined and tight-pocketed landowner did).
How To Draft Your Own Timber Management Plan
I suggest getting familiar with management plans. Read several so you’ve got a good grasp on what typical plans include and how they’re formatted. I started by googling “timber management plan”. This plan covered all the bases and was the basis for my own plan. This site also provides a solid outline of information to include in your own plan.
Identify your goals for your property. For example, we wanted to keep our land wooded and attract wildlife (for hunting) while still being able to sell the trees that would naturally need to be removed to maintain healthy forests. Your goals will be the guiding principles of the plan and the subject of your introductory paragraph.
Dig out the legal description of your property and include that near the beginning of the plan. The legal description is that super technical (and sometimes nonsensical) way the county refers to your property on your mortgage and deed. (If you’re having a hard time finding it, the clerks at your local Assessors’ Office can point it out for you). Also include the tax map number for your property.
Include any relevant history you know about your property as well. In some cases the historical uses of your property could help you get the agricultural status you want.
Describe your property’s characteristics like the types of timber present and the topography. I broke our property into five different sections, four stands of timber and the area we use for residential and farm purposes. This made it easier to talk about the characteristics of our 25 acre tract. Here, just note any general characteristics of the property as a whole (like erosion in stand #3, a sharp westerly slope in stand #4, etc…). I included a topographical map of our property with our plan. Draw your own here.
I also included a brief soil analysis as that was something most plans I found in my research covered. The USDA actually has a database of soil surveys by state which was immeasurably helpful in giving me the specific soil analysis I was looking for. You can find that list here. To find out what soil is on your property, this site will allow you to zero in on your property and draw your own soil map. I included the map I drew of our property as an addendum to our plan.
The final step is to talk specifically about each section of your property. First, describe the location of the stand in relation to access roads and other features of the property. Really get into detail here about the age, height and diameter of your trees, what you’ve got going on in the under-story and the types of timber you have. Then, the ‘plan’ part of the timber management plan comes in. Describe how you intend to manage each stand individually. Thinning, prescribed burning, fertilization, harvesting, edge management and disease prevention are all things to consider in your plan.
After speaking in detail about each of the stands on my property, I included an excel table which laid out what activities would happen when (year in the left column and management activity in the right). It was all information I had already detailed in my plan, but putting it in table form was a clear way to show I was serious about managing my property (and serious about paying less in taxes).
- Keep the tone of your plan clear and direct. This is supposed to be a professional analysis and management plan for your property – there’s no need for flowery language here and you won’t get extra points for the length of your plan.
- Don’t bullshit. This isn’t high school and you are not guaranteed a second chance to get your property re-assessed before taxes are due. If you don’t want to put in the time and energy a real plan requires, then contact a forester to draft one for you. The few hundred dollars it will cost will be well worth it when you’re saving thousands each year on your taxes.
- Hark back to the composition of some of your high school and college papers. Use page numbers, consistent spacing, and a clear layout. Don’t forget to have someone proofread it for you before you submit.
- Verify that your plan has been received. Follow up and get a clear answer as to the status of your claim. In my limited experience, you really have to be your own advocate when it comes to dealing with government bureaucracy. Document every step of your claim and appeal and ask questions until you are clear and comfortable with your understanding of the situation.
Drafting this plan took me a lot of time. It has already proven worth it, though. I have confirmed our agricultural status for 2015 and I appealed to have our 2014 status retro-actively changed. We just learned that our appeal was successful (yay!) and we got a check in the mail two weeks ago for just over $2,100.00 in overpaid taxes. Our taxes for 2015 should be around $400.00 for all 25 acres.
Best of luck to all you out there who may be dealing with property tax woes. I plan to be back with some less painfully boring content soon.