Large CAFOs Devalue Nearby Property, State Says

Following an appeal of a tax bill in the Town of Pierce, south of Algoma, the Department of Revenue (DOR) determined that property within one mile of a large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) has been devalued.

Deb and Scott Kliment appealed their tax assessment on their property across from Ebert Enterprises LLC and received a 13 percent reduction in their assessed value, setting a troubling precedent for a county already struggling to balance tax burdens and revenue.

“We researched the area around our home in the last year or so and we found very disturbing news,” said Deb, who at the time was trying to sell their house on 14 acres. “Not only were the properties listed less than what they originally asked, but that, even with their listing price, the tax assessment was more.”

When the Kliments appealed to the DOR, the department analyzed home sales within three miles of CAFOs. Here is what they determined:

  • Properties more than one mile away from a CAFO are not impacted
  • Properties within any distance from a smaller CAFO (less than 4,000 units) are not impacted
  • Properties within one quarter mile of a large CAFO (greater than 4,000 units) lose 13 percent of their value
  • Properties between a quarter-mile and one mile of a large CAFO lose eight percent of their value

“I hope the door has been opened. It’s a precedent,” said Deb. “I’m hoping that [property owners] will take advantage of this minor amount of money and try to get at least something back.”

Lee Luft, Kewaunee County board supervisor from the Town of Pierce, agrees that the precedent has been set and it worries him at the county level.

“If this starts happening more it could impact the county,” said Luft.

The determination from the DOR does not automatically apply to all homes within one mile of the five large CAFOs in Kewaunee County, according to County Treasurer Michelle Dax. Property owners must still appeal through the standard process.

Luft estimates there could be up to 50 homeowners within one mile from large CAFOs and, if they all go through the appeal process, local municipalities and the county could lose a portion of their tax base.

That doesn’t bode well for Kewaunee County, which pushed through a one-half percent increase to the county sales tax earlier this year to stay afloat financially.

On top of that, the county is forced to repay nearly $12 million to Dominion Resources for what a settlement deemed was unfair taxation on the shuttered power plant in 2015 and 2016. For the next ten years of repayment, Kewaunee County residents will be strapped with a higher tax burden paid to the Virginia-based energy company.

At the Pierce town board meeting on Dec. 19, chairman Brian Paplham said they could not discuss the DOR determination per advice from their legal counsel.

Still, four residents, including co-founder of the environmental advocacy group Kewaunee CARES Lynn Utesch, asked the town to discuss the property devaluation.

“I would hope that the town would be looking at ways to shift that tax burden back to those entities that are causing that instead of putting it on the taxpayers in general,” said Utesch. “The taxpayers in general didn’t cause that.”

The DOR letter to the Kliments clarifies that the analysis can only be reasonably applied to Kewaunee County. Luft did not know of any other property owners that were appealing at this time.

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