Eagle Valley Land Trust urging support for new bill | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley Land Trust urging support for new bill

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The folks at the Eagle Valley Land Trust are always looking for new ways to preserve land. If a bill now in Congress becomes law, land trusts nationwide will gain a new tool for their work.

A pair of bills now working through the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives would make permanent a tax break for landowners who sign contracts – known as “conservation easements” – that guarantee their property will never be developed.

That tax break actually existed for several years before the end of 2011, but was allowed to expire, along with several other tax measures that required annual congressional approval.

Jason Denhart of the Eagle Valley Land Trust said many of those bills, known as “tax extenders,” have been lumped together in one legislative package. But the conservation easement tax break is working its way through Congress as a stand-alone measure.

Denhart said both the House and Senate versions of the bills have primary sponsors from both the Democratic and Republican parties.

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That support extends to the men representing Eagle County in Congress, Rep. Jared Polis, who represents roughly the eastern part of the county, and Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents most of the county west of Edwards. Polis is a Democrat, and is considered a liberal. Tipton, a Republican, is considered conservative..

“Eagle Valley Land Trust is excited that Rep. Tipton and Rep. Polis have joined with so many of their colleagues to make this important conservation tool permanent,” said Dan Godec, president of the local Land Trust, in a statement.

Here’s how the tax break would work:

Since the old legislation expired, landowners now can deduct only the federal standard of 30 percent of the land’s value if they choose to contractually prohibit development on their property. Denhart said that break is the same, percentage-wise, as donating a bag of clothes or a sofa to either Habitat for Humanity or Vail Valley Cares.

If passed, the new tax break would allow landowners to take 50 percent of the land’s value as a tax deduction, and stretch that deduction out over 16 years. For someone with $50,000 in taxable income and a farm or ranch worth $1 million, the deduction could add up to $800,000 over the life of the break.

That financial incentive could be key to convincing landowners to put conservation easements on their property, and keep it in their families, Denhart said.

“We’re always educating local landowners,” Denhart said. “This (bill) adds to our tool kit in that… This will add to the appeal of preservation.”

While the bills look likely to pass, Denhart encouraged local residents who support the bill to contact Tipton, Polis and Sen. Michael Bennet.

“They always need to hear from voters,” he said.

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