In 1976, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted the Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act of 1976 (the "Act")-the law is commonly known as "greenbelt". The Act is codified in Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 67-5-1001 through 1050. The purpose of the Act is to help preserve agricultural, forest, and open space land. This is accomplished by valuing land based upon its present use, rather than at a highest and best use. When property is valued at its highest and best use, the threat of development can bring about land use conflicts, create high costs for public services, contribute to increased energy usage, and stimulate land speculation.
The State Board of Equalization is responsible for approving the forms used to apply for agricultural, forest or open space classification. In addition, the State Board of Equalization hears appeals of denials of timely filed greenbelt applications, appeals concerning liability for rollback taxes and appeals of use value.
Appealing denial of an application (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 67-5-1005(d), 1006(d), & 1007(c))
Any owner of property may appeal the denial of a timely filed greenbelt application. Appeal is made first to the County Board of Equalization and then to the State Board of Equalization.
Appealing rollback taxes (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1008(d)(3))
Liability for rollback taxes can only be appealed directly to the State Board of Equalization. An appeal must be made by March 1 of the year following the date the assessor sends notice that the property has been disqualified and rollback taxes are due.
Appealing use value (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1008(c)(4))
A property’s use value cannot be appealed to the county boards of equalization. To challenge the use value, a petition of at least 10 owners of greenbelt property, or a petition of any organization representing 10 or more owners of greenbelt property, must be filed with the State Board of Equalization. The petition must be filed “on or before twenty (20) days after the date the division of property assessments publishes notice of the availability of the proposed use value schedule in a newspaper of general circulation within the county.”
What is forest land? (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1004(3))
Forest land is defined as land constituting a forest unit engaged in the growing of trees under a sound program of sustained yield management that is at least 15 acres and that has tree growth in such quantity and quality and so managed as to constitute a forest.
Classification as forest (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1006(b) & (c))
In determining whether any land is forest land, the assessor shall take into account, among other things, the acreage of the land, the amount and type of timber on the land, the actual and potential growth rate of the timber, and the management practices applied to the land and the timber on it. The assessor may request the advice of the state forester in determining whether land qualifies as a forest.
Is a forest management plan required?
A forest management plan is required for land to qualify as forest. The State Board of Equalization has approved a forest management plan template. Property owners are not required to use this particular template, but applications must ultimately have a forest management plan summarizing the management practices being applied to the land and the timber on it.
Must a professional forester complete the forest management plan?
Due to the complexity of the planning process, it is highly advised to enlist the assistance of a professional forester in the development of a forest management plan. However, there is no requirement that the plan be completed by a professional forester.
Does the professional forester have to be certified or registered?
No, the State of Tennessee does not have a certified or registered forester program.
Does the Tennessee Division of Forestry complete forest management plans?
No, the Tennessee Division of Forestry does not complete forest management plans for greenbelt purposes. The Division of Forestry does maintain a directory of consulting foresters who may provide this service.
How much will it cost to have a professional forester complete the forest management plan?
Contact your local consulting forester for more information about fees.
On October 31, 2018, the State Board of Equalization approved the following Forest Management Plan template:
Acreage limit for owners of greenbelt land (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1003(3))
The law provides that no person may place more than 1,500 acres under greenbelt within any one taxing jurisdiction. The 1,500-acre limit does not apply to an agricultural classification that an owner obtained before July 1, 1984. Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1008(g) does remove, however, any forest or open-space land in excess of the 1,500-acre limit obtained before July 1, 1984.
Artificial entities-such as partnerships, corporations, LLCs, trusts, or other legal entities-are also subject to the 1,500-acre limit.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1003(3) sets forth the method for attributing acres to individuals and artificial entities and their owners.
Land owned by a person who is at the 1,500-acre limit (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1003(3))
Once an owner qualifies 1,500 acres for preferential treatment, that owner cannot qualify any additional acreage for preferential treatment.
What are rollback taxes? (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 67-5-1004(12), 1008(d)(1))
Rollback taxes are the amount of taxes saved over a certain period of time that the land qualified as agricultural, forest, or open space. These taxes are not a penalty; they are a recapture of the amount of taxes saved.
How is the amount of rollback taxes calculated? (Tenn. Code Ann. § 1008(d)(1))
They are calculated by the difference between the use value and market value assessments. For agricultural and forest land, rollback taxes are calculated each year for the preceding three years. For open space land, they are calculated each year for the preceding five years.
Who calculates the amount of rollback taxes? (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1008(d)(1))
The assessor of property must calculate rollback taxes.
What is the delinquency date for rollback taxes? (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-1008(d)(3))
Rollback taxes are payable from the date written notice is sent by the assessor and become delinquent on March 1 of the following year.
Additional information about rollback taxes may be found in the Greenbelt Manual.
The purpose of this manual is to provide information about the Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act of 1976 (the “Act”)—the law is commonly known as “greenbelt.” This manual will discuss:
- the agricultural, forest and open space classifications;
- the process of applying for a classification;
- assessment of rollback taxes; and
- the appeals process.
It is anticipated that the manual can be useful to taxpayers, county and city officials, and persons with a general interest in greenbelt.