WINSLOW — A pair of farms in town may be among the first to benefit from a first-of-its-kind program in Maine that aims to keep working farms in operation by forgiving local property taxes.

The first municipal commission on agriculture in the state of Maine has received its first applications for a temporary conservation program that would provide tax relief to farmland owners. The Winslow Agricultural Commission recently met to discuss the applications it received for the Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program, which was created through legislation in 2007 but was never incorporated by a town until now.

“There’s a group of us that want to have agriculture be a sustainable part of our economy as we move along,” said Elery Keene, commission member and Winslow Planning Board member.

The support program sets up an agreement between the town and those who own farmland requiring the landowners to conserve the farmland for 20 years. In exchange, the town gives the landowners “farm support payments.”

The potential tax shift shouldn’t cause a large change, officials said.

Councilor Ken Fletcher said the Town Council intends to be “very careful” about how many farms it accepts for the program each year.

The town assessor, Judy Mathiau, looked at a dozen properties in Winslow that would be eligible for the program. Using a tax rate of $15.50, Mathiau found that the town might lose $12,832 in property tax dollars annually.

The increase in the tax rate would be 2 cents.

One of the two applicants is Steve Russell, a town councilor and commission member whose family owns a dairy farm in town.

Winslow has seen a large shift in its local agricultural industry, members of the commission said.

There were about 20 dairy farms alone in the town in the 1970s, according to research that Russell has done.


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