Department of Revenue: large Kewaunee County farms impact property values

Cows at Ebert Enterprises in the Town of Pierce on November 15, 2017. (Photo credit: WLUK)

TOWN OF PIERCE (WLUK) -- Farms with thousands of cows are being blamed for declining property values in Kewaunee County.

That determination from the Department of Revenue is opening the door for residents to try to lower their property taxes. However, some fear that could come with consequences.

Scott and Debbie Kliment say they can no longer enjoy their dream home like they did when they moved in 22 years ago.

“We can't even sleep with our windows open, not only because of the smell, but because of the noise,” said Debbie Kliment, who lives in the Town of Pierce.

The Kliments say the smell and noise has grown along with the size of the cow herd down the road at Ebert Enterprises.

“It's one of the more depressing things,” said Randy Ebert of Ebert Enterprises. “You get categorized based on how many cows you milk or how many barns you have.”

With 3,000 cows, Ebert Enterprises is known as a CAFO, a concentrated animal feeding operation.

The Kliments believe the Ebert farm has caused their property value to plummet. They decided to appeal the assessed value of their home after researching similar properties that had recently sold in the area.

“What we found was pretty shocking,” said Scott Kliment. “We built up a portfolio of eight properties within a bicycle ride of here that did sell, after very long times on the market. None of them brought assessed value.”

The State Department of Revenue used the Kliment's appeal to study the issue. It looked at 184 homes that were sold within the past three years. The homes were each located near one of the six largest CAFOs in or just outside Kewaunee County.

The Department of Revenue determined there was no impact on homes sold beyond one mile of one of the large farming operations. However, it determined the CAFOs had adverse impacts on the selling prices of homes within one mile.

“There are consequences to living next to them,” said Debbie Kliment. “At least the Department of Revenue realizes that now.”

In the written findings of the Kliment's appeal, the Department of Revenue wrote properties within a 1/4 mile of the studied CAFOs saw a 13 percent drop in value. An 8 percent drop was determined for properties between a quarter and one mile.

The Kliments fall within a 1/4 mile of Ebert's farm and had their assessed value reduced the 13 percent.

A spokesperson for the Department of Revenue tells FOX 11 “there is no such thing as a one-size fits-all designation here. Each assessed value appeal is carefully considered on its own merits.”

“I'm not saying we have to agree on everything,” said Ebert. “I think there are some huge consequences if this precedence is set. It won't stop with farming. Today it's farming, but it will be the next thing after that.”

Ebert wonders what the impact could be on tax collections.

“Where will the money come from?” said Ebert. “Today it's farming, tomorrow it could be I live next to that bar or restaurant that there is cars leaving at 2 o'clock and even though they're zoned for that, we don't want that anymore. We want it reduced.”

FOX 11 spoke with Kewaunee County Administrator Scott Feldt. He says it is too early to tell if the county will be affected if more people challenge their property value like the Kliments did.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union believes this is only the second case in Wisconsin where a property's assessed value was dropped because of its proximity to a large farming operation.

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