Couple pushes for easement solution

    A proposal to provide relief to rural farmers and ranchers who were promised tax credits in exchange for converting some of their land to conservation easements failed once again in the House.
    Republican Reps. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan and Kimmi Lewis of Kim sponsored a measure to restore those lands to owners who were denied the tax credits. The bill also would dismiss interest and penalties, or the bonds required when the landowner takes the Department of Revenue, which administers the program, to district court to contest the department’s denial of those tax credits.
    The department has claimed, with little evidence, that land appraisals that determined the value of these easements were overvalued or fraudulent. Only one case of fraud, out of more than 4,000 easements applied for, was ever prosecuted. The department has rejected more than 750 tax credits based on what it claimed were faulty appraisals.
    Alan and Julie Gentz of Sterling have been among the stalwarts pushing for a solution. They received tax credits for two easements on their property in 2006 and 2007, land that they originally hoped to develop into housing. The Gentz farm, west of town, is now all but surrounded by new housing.
    But the department revoked the credits, claiming the land had no value. The Gentz family had five appraisals done to satisfy the department, all which came back with roughly the same value, and each appraisal was rejected.
    Alan Gentz told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee that he would favor seeing the program eliminated because of the abuse that he and other landowners have suffered, both from the Department of Revenue and the attorney general’s office.
    The Gentz family has since settled their dispute, but during the committee hearing pointed out that they spent at least $250,000 to deal with the problems, not including the tax credits they lost. “Just stop it!,” Alan Gentz said. “’Band-Aid’ legislative fixes have failed. Every time the bandage is ripped off, homeowners are left bleeding.”
    The tax credits were intended to help farmers and ranchers, he said, but have only made them bait in a bait-and-switch scam that evolved over the program’s 16-year history.
 

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