Current use is a taxing strategy aimed at making it easier for landowners to keep their open space undeveloped. Instead of being taxed at its real estate market value, land is taxed on its income-producing capability. Current use keeps property taxes at a lower, more predictable rate. Current Use is a conservation policy that recognizes the public benefits of private forests and agriculture.
Today more than 3 million acres of undeveloped land are enrolled in current use statewide. This includes farm land, forest land, certified tree farms, wetlands and other open space unsuitable for agriculture or forestry. Typically, land holdings must be at least 10 acres, but owners of smaller wetland parcels or land devoted to agriculture may also be eligible. Buildings and other improvements, such as driveways and septic systems, or “curtilage” land that is needed to support surrounding structures are excluded from current use.
No land automatically becomes enrolled in current use. Landowners must apply to their municipality, committing their land to open space conservation. The selectmen, town forester, or other assessing official appraises the land using criteria established by the state Current Use Board. Like other types of real estate, this valuation is equalized annually for the purpose of assessing taxes. Forms needed to enroll are the A-10 or CU-12.
When land enrolled in current use is converted for development, or an owner otherwise changes its use to one not qualifying for current use, a land use change tax (LUCT) is charged. Currently, the rate is at 10 percent of the “full and true value” (ad valorem) of the land, and is usually assessed at the time the physical change occurs.
Every year, the state Current Use Board establishes the criteria and rates to be used for the following year. Public comment is solicited in forums held around the state. The Current Use Board carefully reviews market prices for agricultural and forest products to establish the land’s income earning potential, and sets the current use assessment rates using this information.
The Forest Society helped lead the charge in 1968 for voters to support a constitutional amendment that would enable the Current Use law now on the books (RSA 79-A adopted by the Legislature in 1973). We remain active supporters of the law as it stands.