480-a offers the potential for you to save substantially on your property taxes, but it also requires a commitment to managing your woodlot for the next 10 years. Consider the benefits and obligations carefully before you enroll.
If you own a woodlot in the New York City Watershed, the Watershed Agricultural Council provides money to help you enroll in 480-a. The New York City Watershed includes portions of eight New York counties: Delaware, Dutchess, Greene, Putnam, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester.
480-a requires you to have and follow a management plan for your woodlot written by a professional forester. Choosing the right forester for you will help not only during plan creation, but also when you decide to harvest timber.
Once you have a written management plan, you must submit that plan and the required forms to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in order to enroll in 480-a. Be sure to enroll by December 31 to receive your tax break for the coming year.
If you were previously approved for Watershed Agricultural Council cost-share funding, you can receive your payment once you've enrolled in 480-a. Send a copy of your 480-a certificate of approval, management plan, and work schedule to the Council, and your check will be mailed within 30 days.
If you enroll your land in the New York State 480-a Forest Tax Law Program, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) requires you to update your management plan every 5 years. How do you go about getting that update done?
Agricultural assessments can reduce your property taxes for land actively used for farming. Many farm products qualify, but the program has acreage and earnings thresholds and time commitments. Consider the benefits and obligations carefully before you enroll.
The best place to start when seeking an agricultural assessment is the tax assessor for the town where your woodlot is located. Your assessor can confirm your eligibility, help you fill out a program application, and provide directions for next steps.
You can subtract the value of the timber when you first purchased or inherited your woodlot – your "basis" – from your taxable income when you have a timber sale. This reduces your taxable income. If you don't know your woodlot's basis, a consulting forester can help you determine it.
Once you've worked with an assessor to begin your application, contact the Soil and Water Conservation District office for the county where your woodlot is located. They will map the soils on your property, and your assessor will use that information to calculate your tax break.
Submit your soils map, completed application, and lease agreement (if leasing land to a farmer) to your local assessor. Your assessor must receive all these documents before March 1 for you to receive your agricultural assessment and have your taxes lowered.
How you report income from logging and how much tax you owe depend on which of 3 tax classes your woodlot falls into. You can determine your woodlot's tax class by answering a few simple questions about why you own it and how you use it.