10 Answers about Vermont’s “Current Use” Program
In this first article about Vermont’s Current Use program, we try to provide some basic facts to interested landowners. Current Use can apply to either agricultural land or forest land. For our purposes, we will focus on forest land. For many of these questions, we have endeavored to provide as clear of an answer as possible; however, as with many subjects, the answers are not always cut and dried. For more details and clarification, interested readers should check the links at the end of this article.
- What is Vermont’s “Current Use” program, and what is it for?
Answer: “Current Use” is the common name given to Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal (UVA) program, adopted by the Vermont Legislature in 1978. The program is also referred to as “Land Use.” UVA or “Current Use” is a property tax incentive for eligible land whose “Current Use” is for forest products.
- Why does forest land need property tax equity?
Answer: Managing a forest requires many acres of land, which, under a typical system, would garner a heavy tax burden, which might lead owners to develop their land. But, ideally, this land won’t be developed but rather used for forestry purposes so should be taxed at its use value rather than at its development value. Current Use assigns this reduced value, which results in reduced taxes, keeping land whole, unfragmented, and healthy. This encourages landowners to keep land in forest production.
- How is “Current Use” value determined? How much can I save?
Answer: Each year, the state of Vermont sets the price per acre for forest land. The state determines the use value per acre of forest land, not what it is worth according to real estate sales of any type of land or development. In 2020, the Use Value for Forest land is $151 per acre. You can use this information to approximate your potential savings. Also check with your town tax assessor for more information.
- How do I know if my land is eligible to be enrolled in “Current Use”?
Answer: Basically, eligible parcels of land must contain at least 25 contiguous forest acres that will be enrolled and managed according to a forest plan approved by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. There are a lot of specifics, and there are exemptions to the rule, but this is a good place to start. Check the links at the end of this article for more details.
- What are examples of land that is not eligible to “Current Use”?
Answer: “Current Use” does not apply to homes and other residential improvements or to the land beneath the home or improvements; this falls under the state’s 2-acre homestead exclusion (and can include houses, apartments, yurts, cabins, etc.). Therefore, land with a dwelling would need to encompass at least 27 acres in order to be eligible for entry into the “Current Use” program. Other land that is ineligible for consideration under Current Use:
- Utility rights-of-way wider than 40’ or greater than 2 acres
- Residential ponds, yards
- Developments such as cell towers or solar panels
- Any areas where a landowner chooses to not harvest trees or keep in production
- Nonproductive lands have limits; again, see the links at the end of this article for more details.
- When can I enroll in “Current Use”?
Answer: Applications can be submitted at any time and can be submitted online or in hard copy. Applications must be submitted or postmarked for new enrollments and additions to existing enrollments to the Current Use program by September 1 each year. For applications submitted by September 1, the land is enrolled on April 1, the start of the following tax year. Find out more about how to get started by contacting a VWA forester, your county forester, or a representative from the Vermont Department of Taxation.
- Is there an application fee to apply for enrollment in “Current Use”?
Answer: The application fee is $100. If there are more than three owners of the parcel of land described in the application, then there is an additional fee of $15 for each group of nine owners submitted. You must submit the payment voucher with your application.
In addition to the application fee, other costs to get your land ready for the program include engaging with a forester, development of the forest plan, expenses related to your Current Use maps, etc.
- Do I have to submit anything with my application and fee?
Answer: Your County Forester is the point of contact here. County Foresters provide forest management and forest stewardship information, technical assistance, and outreach to landowners in Vermont. So, by October 1, you must submit to the County Forester a copy of your forest management plan for the property; every parcel of forest land must have a forest management plan approved by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and the plan must be renewed every 10 years. Along with the management plan, you must submit three (3) copies of the Current Use map for new parcels as well as additions to enrollment with managed forest land or conservation land. You, the landowner, must sign the management plan. You will need to submit any additional supporting documentation that is requested.
- Is there anything else that I have to do?
Answer: Yes, there is the ongoing responsibility of managing your land according to your plan. And remember the plan expires every 10 years, so you will have to keep in touch with your forester to keep the plan updated. In addition, if any management activity occurs on the land during the year, then you must submit a Forest Management Activity Report (FMAR) by February 1. If none occurred, then no report is due.
- What if I want to get out of the Current Use program?
Answer: Withdrawing whole parcels or parts of parcels from the Current Use program does incur a penalty for the landowner. However, land that is enrolled can be sold or transferred – transfer paperwork is very straightforward.
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, where we will expand on what it takes to enroll in the program. In the meantime, check these links for more information:
Vermont Woodlands Association: Guide to Current Use
Vermont Woodlands Association: Consulting Foresters Directory
Vermont Natural Resources Council: Community Planning Toolbox: Current Use Taxation
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation: Use Value Appraisal
Vermont Agency of Administration, Department of Taxes, Current Use