June 6, 2013

Guest column: Income tax reductions for Georgia landowners

— If you own land in Georgia, you may have a chance to cut your income taxes in half. Congress recently extended, through the end of this year, a law that allows landowners who protect their land from development and protect the conservation values on the property to reduce their federal income tax liability by as much as 50 percent. This annual 50 percent tax savings can be continued for up to 16 years, depending on the value of the land.

The way to qualify for this is through a land conservation easement. A conservation easement is simply a legal agreement that the land will not be developed into a subdivision. The owner still has all the other rights and privileges we associate with ownership: private use of the land; the right to sell or convey; the right to hunt, fish, hike or farm; even the right to build necessary structures or a home for a family member.  

For many landowners who are not interested in developing their family land, giving up a possible future opportunity to subdivide in exchange for keeping real money in their pocket today just makes sense. The IRS allows the landowner to take the value of these subdivision rights — which can be the majority of the land’s value — and treat them as a deduction to reduce one’s income. It is similar to the deduction one is allowed to take for donations to a church or other charity. The state of Georgia also recognizes the value of protecting natural resources and allows a tax credit for the landowner.

While the concept is simple, the process can be complex. The Georgia Conservancy, one of the state’s oldest nonprofit environmental organizations, has a free service for Georgia landowners to help them evaluate whether this program is suitable for them. In just two years, landowners working with the Georgia Conservancy have protected 15,000 acres of land and received millions of dollars in conservation cash payments and income tax savings.

Landowners who are interested in a free evaluation of their land’s conservation potential are encouraged to contact Fuller Callaway of the Georgia Conservancy’s Land Conservation Program at (404) 876-2900, ext. 113, or fcallaway@gaconservancy.org.