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Dowd v. Howell Township

June 16, 1995


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hamill

In this local property tax matter plaintiff, Daniel Dowd, challenges a denial of farmland assessment for the 1993 tax year. Farmland assessment was denied on the ground that the principal activity conducted on the property is the grazing of horses. According to the township, grazing horses, like boarding horses, is not a qualifying agricultural use. Plaintiff maintains that grazing horses, as opposed to boarding them, qualifies for farmland assessment. The Monmouth County Board of Taxation affirmed the denial of farmland assessment.

The property at issue is Block 50, Lot 59Q in Howell Township. (The designation "Q" means that the lot qualified for farmland assessment. As a result of the denial of farmland assessment, there is presently only a Lot 59 and no Lot 59Q.) For the period at issue the property consisted of Lot 59Q containing between 11 and 12 acres and Lot 59 (presumably the homesite) consisting of .47 acres. When farmland assessment was denied, the entire property, including improvements, was assessed at $237,600. Plaintiff has not challenged the value of the property if farmland assessment is denied.

Plaintiff described the agricultural use of the property as follows. Approximately 10 acres of the property are divided into three horse pastures -- one containing approximately five acres, another three acres, and another two plus acres. Somewhat less than an additional one acre is planted in evergreen seedlings. The three pastures are fenced and contain run-in sheds for horses. There are two barns on the property, but they are not used to board horses.

The grazing operation includes three to four horses on average. The horses belong to individuals who pay plaintiff $75 per horse per month for pasturing. The horses are "turned out" in the pastures, meaning, according to Mr. Dowd, that they are not being trained but are more or less in retirement. Plaintiff testified that he was careful to offer his pastureland only to individuals who did not intend to ride their horses on his property. There are no rider or horse training facilities on the property, e.g., no track or riding ring, and plaintiff has no responsibility for exercising the horses. Some of the horses may be brood mares, but they are not owned by plaintiff, and plaintiff does not sell horses or foals.

Under the terms of the agreement entered into between plaintiff and a horse owner, Mr. Dowd provides no services to the owner other then making available his pastures and run-in sheds. In particular, unless the owner pays an additional amount, plaintiff does not feed or water a horse, call or assist a veterinarian or blacksmith, or provide a stall or transportation to and from the Dowds' property. The horse owners are completely responsible for the well-being of their horses. This involves checking on a horse once or twice a day; plaintiff has no responsibility for doing this. The owners provide their own feed tubs and grain and see that their horses are both fed and watered. If an owner wishes Mr. Dowd to provide additional services, the agreement specifies an additional fee. Plaintiff testified that he has never been asked to provide such additional services since he began leasing his pastures.

The agreement further specifies that Mr. Dowd's farm is not responsible for accidents to or sickness or death of a horse and is not liable for damage to property or injury to individuals caused by a horse.

For the 1991 calendar year plaintiff received gross income in the amount of $2,725 from horse grazing. In 1992 he received $2,290 from grazing and an additional $650 from the sale of evergreen seedlings. During 1993 Mr. Dowd received $1,115 from horse grazing and $820 from the sale of evergreens. *fn1

On his application for farmland assessment for the 1993 tax year, plaintiff indicated that he had .6 acres of cropland harvested (presumably the evergreens), 9 acres of permanent pasture, i.e., the grazing operation, and 2.21 acres of appurtenant woodland. He further indicated under "livestock" that he had four horses on the property.

The only dispute in this matter is whether land used for grazing horses qualifies for farmland assessment.

N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.3 provides in pertinent part:

Land shall be deemed to be in agricultural use when devoted to the production for sale of plants and animals useful to man, including but not limited to: forages and sod crops; grains and feed crops; dairy animals and dairy products; poultry and poultry products; livestock, including beef cattle, sheep, swine, horses, ponies, mules or goats, including the breeding and grazing of any or all of such animals.

[emphasis added].

N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.5 provides in pertinent part:

Land, five acres in area, shall be deemed to be actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural use when the gross sales of agricultural or horticultural products produced thereon...have averaged at least $500.00 per year during ...

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