New Hampshire’s current use law celebrates its 50th anniversary

By Tom Thomson and Andy Peterson

NH Business Review

Published: 07-08-2023 10:00 AM

New Hampshire’s scenic landscape exists today due to the vision and actions of many taken 50 years ago. During the 1960s the New Hampshire population was growing fast and so were our property taxes, particularly in the southern part of the state.

The owners of farm and forestlands saw the values of their land base rising faster than they could afford, so they began selling their farms and forestlands. Much of this rural land base turned into strip malls, poorly planned subdivisions and additional roads and infrastructure which threatened two of our oldest industries, agriculture and forestry.

What happened next was a campaign to amend our Constitution.

In 1968, Proposition 7 or “YES on 7,” was approved by the people voters by more than the necessary two-thirds majority, and on the same ballot Walter Peterson was elected governor of New Hampshire. Governor Peterson worked hard to be sure the current use taxation law would meet the constitutional directive and ensure fair taxation on undeveloped farm and forestlands with any landowner who qualified.

Fast-forward, to 1973, when the General Court passed House Bill 307, the current use taxation law. Gov. Meldrim Thomson signed the bill into law on June 28, 1973, with an effective date of July 1, 1973, which provided that no land shall be assessed under the act as open space land prior to April 1, 1974.

The law also created a Current Use Advisory Board, which is attached to the NH Department of Revenue Administration.

The success of the current use law over the past 50 years can be seen in the positive acceptance by over 42,000 farm and forest landowners who have enrolled more than 3 million acres. Our current use law over the years has remained easy to understand. Unlike other states, enrolling land in current use and administering the program is simple.

Any landowner can choose to enroll their lands if they own 10 or more acres of undeveloped land, with a few exceptions.

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The Current Use Advisory Board has developed a NH Current Use Criteria Booklet.This document should answer any questions you may have about Current Use Law in NH.

We would not be celebrating 50 years of Current Use without the vision of many folks, such as Elmer Johnson of Winchester, a dairy farmer and state representative who was the prime sponsor of HB 307, along with SPACE, the NH Timberland Owners Association, NH Farm Bureau, Society for the Protection of NH Forest, NH Audubon and many others. Also instrumental were those who served in the NH Legislature as well as both Governors, Walter Peterson and Meldrim Thomson.

Without everyone’s hard work and successful efforts we believe New Hampshire would look much different than it does today. We have maintained our rural character by protecting our farm and forestland which is why our NH Tourism remains our second largest Industry with a strong Recreation, Farm and Forestry Industry.

Tom Thomson, a tree farmer in Orford and public member of the Current Use Advisory Board, is the son of Meldrim Thomson. Andy Peterson, a real estate broker in Peterborough and former member of the NH House and NH Senate, is the son of Walter Peterson.

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