Discretionary Preservation Easements
A Property Tax Incentive Mechanism to
Help Save Historic New Hampshire Agricultural Buildings
State law RSA 79-D Discretionary Preservation Easements, creates a mechanism to encourage the preservation of historic New Hampshire barns and other agricultural buildings by authorizing municipalities to grant property tax relief to barn owners who (a) can demonstrate the public benefit of preserving their barns or other historic farm buildings, and (b) agree to maintain their structures throughout a minimum 10-year preservation easement.
The new law is based on the widespread recognition that many of the state's old barns and other farm outbuildings are important local scenic landmarks and help tell the story of New Hampshire's agricultural heritage. Yet many of these historic structures are being demolished or not repaired because of the adverse impact of property taxes. RSA 79-D encourages barn owners to maintain and repair their buildings by granting them specific tax relief and assuring them that assessments will not be increased as a result of new repair work.
The program represents a uniquely New Hampshire approach; it is strictly voluntary on the part of the property owner and combines statewide eligibility criteria and guidelines with decision-making and implementation at the local level. It is closely modeled after New Hampshire's open space discretionary easement program (RSA 79-C), which authorizes local governments to grant property tax relief to encourage the preservation of open land.
On or before April 15 of the new tax year, any owner of an historic barn or other farm building may seek relief by applying to their local governing body (town selectboard or city government) to grant a discretionary preservation easement and by agreeing to maintain the structure in keeping with its historic integrity and character during the term of the easement. The application (PA-36-A), available at town and city halls, includes a map showing the location of the structure(s) and a description of how the property meets at least one of the prescribed tests of public benefit.
The town selectboard or appropriate city government department will then have 60 days in which to act on the application. A public hearing is required, providing an opportunity for local historical commissions or others to express support for barn preservation efforts. If the municipality determines, in exercising its discretion, that the proposed preservation of the structure is consistent with the purpose of the law, it may acquire an easement on the structure for a minimum of ten years and grant tax relief within a range of a 25% to 75% reduction of the structure's full assessed value. Maintaining and repairing the building will not result in an increase in its assessed value for property tax purposes.
RSA 79-D became effective on July 2, 2002. Property tax reductions for barns and other outbuildings placed under discretionary preservation easements will become effective starting in tax year 2003.
For this program, "historic agricultural structure" is defined as a barn or other structure, including the land on which it is built, which was or is used for agricultural purposes and is at least 75 years old. The test of demonstrated public benefit is met if the structure complies with one or more of the following:
(1) it provides scenic enjoyment to the general public from a public road or waterway,
(2) it is historically important on a local, regional, state or national level, or
(3) it contributes to the historic or cultural integrity of a property listed on or eligible for the New Hampshire State or National Registers of Historic Places, or is in a locally designated historic district.
In determining eligibility, the selectboard or appropriate city department shall refer to statewide guidelines adopted by the New Hampshire Historic Agricultural Structures Advisory Committee. The municipality may also weigh the public benefit to be gained by the preservation of the structure versus the tax revenue to be lost if the easement is accepted. The statewide guidelines include consideration of whether there is local interest and support for the structure's preservation, its historic and agricultural significance, and the degree to which tax relief will encourage its preservation.
Whom Do I Contact?
The NH Department of Revenue Administration provides application forms to all town and city governments. Application forms and guidelines are available from your town clerk, Board of Selectmen or appropriate city department. Ask them to contact the NH Division of Revenue Administration's Community Services Division, (603) 271-2191, if they need more information about the application.
More information on barn preservation and the value of New Hampshire's historical agricultural resources is also available from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance at (603) 224-2281, firstname.lastname@example.org, or New Hampshire Preservation Alliance
, and from the NH Division of Historical Resources, (603) 271-3483, email@example.com, or Tools for Preserving Barns
Related Helpful Links
Chapter 86, HB 522-Local, Final Version, Discretionary Preservation Easements
Title V, Taxation, Chapter 79-D, Discretionary Preservation Easements
Determining Eligibility for RSA 79-D Discretionary Preservation Easements for Preserving Historic Agricultural Structures, Illustrative List of Agricultural Structures, and Guidelines to Assist in Determining "Necessary Public Benefit"
New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration, Discretionary Preservation Easement Application
RSA 79D Q&A
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