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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pa's Clean and Green - a 90% Tax Break For the Wealthy

Pennsylvania's Clean and Green Program is a preferential assessment given to property owners with larger tracts of land. In many instances, it gives farmers a break. But in many more, it is a handout to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Statewide, 9.3 million acres are enrolled. In Northampton County, 3,490 properties are in the Act 319 program, with a smaller and still undetermined number in the similar Act 515 program. The tax on these properties is about 10% what it would be without this program.

This tax break is provided for properties that are in agricultural use, agricultural reserve or forest reserve. Northampton County considers all land not used in active farming as agricultural reserve so long as it is "open to the public for that use, without charge or fee, on a nondiscriminatory basis." If a property owner decides to develop, he must pay back the 90% difference, with interest.

While this is a laudable program, it appears to have been perverted. There are huge tracts with private golf courses and swimming pools, and some of these properties are posted against trespassing. I see no reason why Northampton County taxpayers should subsidize this sort of classism.

How many of these properties are actually farmed? How many are made available to the public as open space? How many are private preserves for wealthy landowners, with no public access?

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Here we go again. Indicting an entire program with no statistics or hard examples. Come on, Bernie. You're capable of better.

Sounds like someone with a dull axe got your ear. First sensitive lands, now clean and green, next... farmland preservation?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Any program, no matter how worthy, is susceptible to abuse. The Glovas application is a perfect example,and that was proved six ways to Sunday. If you really care about open space instead of its industry, you'd work to reform the abuses. I believe Clean and Dreen is being perverted, and in a few months, I will be proving that six ways to Sunday.

Unknown said...

Ding, ding, ding, ding.
When the first comment is an attack on the writer it almost always means it was a good post!

Anonymous said...

Can you contact local state legislators and get their feedback as to when they plan to revoke this unfair legislation. Who wrote this legislation and who voted for it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This legislation has existed for decades. before contacting the state, I want to collect data.

Anonymous said...

3:19 does not preclude posting. 5:15 precludes posting but has a slightly better tax discount. That said, participation in the program should not be an invitation for hunters.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is a misconception. Whether it is Act 319 or 515, the public must be permitted on the property.

Renew Lehigh Valley said...

If you want to learn more, ere are some links to information about the State law, Act 319 from the perspective from three counties :


Generally speaking, preserving open space and farmland are valuable to the region in many ways.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bernie,
Several years ago one of my sons was cited for defiant trespass in our northern tier
county. He any a friend had been hiking and paused to enjoy the view looking out over the Susquehanna river. A very PO'ed older gentleman appeared and gave the two young men a real hard time even though they were really doing nothing but walking. This gentleman asked their names and they, I guess foolishly gave them. The gentleman filed a charge with the local district justice. I thought of the Clean and Green defense that the property, we found out, was included. Well I was very impressed with the way the defense was laid out but the DJ and the gentleman owner laughed them right out of the court room. Not a surprise in a way but I will add I have won more than one summary traffic citation in front of this DJ. Mr. Bernie I don't often agree with you or most of you contributors most of the time but I read your blog almost every day. Good luck to you anyway.
An old cripple adversary
The bearded gunman

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bearded gunman, I am amazed that a DJ rejected an argument from you. As I discovered on Independence Day, you are a formidable adversary. You prove that by reading bloggers with whom you disagree.

Vince Foglia said...


There are many aspects to the transfer of wealth by the "industry" which protects jobs and ignores or bends the law including illegal millage freeze, preserving bad properties in spite of laws such as Act 153 and Act 29 rules, County Ordinances, local plans and zoning. Add property owner favored assessments (a cell tower property assessed like farmland) to the scam. The industry has paid advocates wasting taxpayer money. Addditional bits of information.

The roll back taxes are for 7 years plus 6% per year. Any use not per the 319 or 515 applications should trigger rollback and penalties. Does anyone enforce this? Are these rocky steep slopes really forests? In addition, DCNR preservation grant rules require "Farmland currently enrolled in Clean and Green and/or Agriculture Security Program must be removed from the program(s) prior to close out of the grant." See this link page 3, item 17f. http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/DCNR_017034.pdf
Do you think anyone is enforcing the law?Look up preserved parcels and see the 319 designation is still there. I have been fighting for a year for the rule of law, get nowhere with the County. Still stalling. I and many local officials have been duped by many involved. No more.

Vince Foglia

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with you, Bernie and Vince Foglia! It's time someone has taken the time to read the laws and understand how the tax payers are getting robbed! People have no clue that all these people who are covered by 319 and 515 get a HUGE tax break on their local, county and SCHOOL taxes - with school taxes being the largest of the 3 tax bills. This means that hard working people trying to put food on the table are picking up the slack! I doubt they even know it! There needs to be broad education of this issue and a grass roots movement to STOP the ABUSE!!

Anonymous said...

Another example that proves that good intentioned government schemes always crash into the law of unintended consequences. Pols get fat. Rich guys get fat. Taxpayers get the bill. But who could possibly not support clean and green and open space and mom and apple pie? They all sound sooo good! It's a beautiful thing when a government that can't balance books or fix bridges or fill potholes shits upon itself.

Anonymous said...

No misconception but I may have had it backwards. Under 319, the public may be restricted so long as it's in active agricultural use. 515 has no such dedication for public use. The language of 319 follows.

(a) General. An owner of enrolled land that is enrolled as agricultural reserve land shall allow the land to be open to the public for outdoor recreation or the enjoyment of scenic or natural beauty without charge or fee, on a nondiscriminatory basis. Enrolled land that is in agricultural use or forest reserve is excluded from this requirement.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am told 515 has a similar requirement, and by people who are in the biz. I will look into it.