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A recent campaign ad for LD25 Assembly candidate Darcy Draeger shows her leading a herd of sheep through her farm in Chester Township.
Farming is a traditional American virtue that suggests determination and hard work – admirable traits for any candidate. At least that’s the intention here.
LD25 Republicans are crying foul. They say Draeger is not a real farmer and that the whole thing is a ruse to get a huge property tax break.
Two things come to mind.
One is that this is yet another sign of an acrimonious campaign for two Assembly seats in the mostly Morris County district. Democrats Draeger and Lisa Bhimani are challenging LD25 incumbent Republicans Anthony M. Bucco and Brian Bergen.
Previously, Republicans said a tax abatement Bhimani got on a Manhattan property put her residency in question. Bhimani, who lives in Mendham, said the abatement was sought by the co-op board and that when she found out about it, she did not accept it.
Democrats for their part have criticized Bucco for seeking reelection to the Assembly while planning to take a Senate seat vacated by his late father.
Now, farms are in play.
This, of course, is a major issue in New Jersey.
In an effort to maintain some semblance of agriculture in the Garden State, the state allows farm owners to pay virtually nothing in property taxes. In the case at hand, Draeger and her husband paid $25.75 in property taxes last year on a 9-acre farm on Old Chester Road called Hedgerows.
Many state residents regardless of political persuasion probably would agree that farmers in the nation’s most congested state deserve a break. But how do you determine what a “real” farm is?
The criteria here is kind of loose.
According to the state Department of Agriculture, property owners qualify for a farmland assessment if they sell at least $1,000 in farm products annually from their five acres. If they have more than five acres, they must sell an additional $5 worth of products per acre. So $5 of products per additional acre? As we said, the requirements are a bit loose.
At any rate, Draeger says she meets that threshold.
An LD25 GOP release referred to Morris County tax records to document that Draeger pays “under $26 per year” in property taxes on her farm.
That is correct, but the Republicans’ release omitted the fact that Draeger and her husband paid almost $24,000 in property taxes last year on their home, which is on the same overall property as the farm, but assessed differently.
The Republicans’ theme here is that Draeger is engaging in a “tax dodging scheme.”
But looking at this objectively, what’s the bottom line? Is it a tax dodging scheme, or are the requirements for farmland assessments in New Jersey too easy to reach?
The answer may depend on your political perspective.