Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Thursday signed AB 707, which makes sure counties have a role in the Williamson Act cancellation process. The bill, authored by Assembly member Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) and sponsored by the County of Humboldt, now requires the state to notify local governments if the state’s cancellation penalty fee assessment differs from the county’s original assessment, and to consider the county’s input before a final determination is made.
Under the Williamson Act, counties can enter in to 10-year contracts with landowners who devote their land to agricultural production. In return, a county assesses the land at a lower rate, which reduces the amount of property taxes the landowner pays for that property.
In Humboldt County, if a landowner wants to terminate the contract before the 10-year period, they typically petition the Board of Supervisors and agree to a cancellation fee, which is based on a new property assessment. The cancellation fee serves as a deterrent to receiving a tax benefit without providing the proper public benefit to the state’s agricultural economy as well as helping to assure adequate, healthful and nutritious food for residents in California and throughout the country.
In 2011, a private landowner and the state negotiated a cancellation fee without including the County of Humboldt in the conversation. The Humboldt County Assessor originally assessed the property at $1.9 million, but the after the deal was cut between the state and landowner the cancellation value plummeted to $227,000.
Humboldt County received just over $28,000 from the cancellation fee instead of $237,375 – a loss of more than $200,000 to the county. Humboldt County entered Fiscal Year 2015-16 with a deficit of over $3 million. Instances like these, if reversed, can help reduce the deficit.
AB 707 removes the ability for the state and landowner to negotiate this cancellation fee that leaves out the county. The bill ensures counties are notified and their input is considered when landowners are looking to cancel their Williamson Act contract.
“Local governments should never be left in the dark when negotiations are happening that directly affect them,” Wood said. “AB 707 ensures that cities and counties always have a seat at the table. I’m thrilled the Governor agreed with me as well.”