A Darlington man will still be required to pay roughly $1,000 in back taxes on rural Iowa County land due to a Department of Natural Resources forester's mistake. A DNR official gave Jim Kostohrys two options on what he could do with the land in question and neither absolved him of the financial obligation.
"Basically, what they told me is they're not going to do anything to help me out," Kostohrys said.
Kostohrys bought 200 acres last year and hoped to keep a large parcel of it in the state's Managed Forest Law Program. Wisconsin gives tax breaks to land owners who keep their land pristine and open to the public for things like hiking, hunting and fishing.
He met with a regional DNR forester for half a day to learn about the program and to ensure the land he was set to purchase would qualify. The forester assured him it did.
Eight months later, the forester alerted Kostohrys that he had made a mistake in assessing the land.
Three of the acres that he bought were not able to be kept in the program and that he'd have to pay a $300 fine to pull them out of the MFL program, plus pay back taxes, at a higher rate, dating back to when the land was originally entered into the MFL program, which was in 2003. It's likely to be a bill costing him around a $1,000 as well as removing the land from the program against his will.
"The DNR is going to take the land out of the MFL program," he said. "I said, ‘I will not sign something that takes it out,’ and they said, 'Don't worry, we'll take it out for you.'”
"I want to keep it pristine. I want to keep it nice. I'm not going to change it,” said Kostohrys.
The letter highlighting his options was written by Kristin Lambert, who is the DNR's Forest Tax Enforcement and Operations specialist. It states that the department will waive its $300 fee for removing land from the program and gives him two options for dealing with the land.
The first option involves transferring the ownership of the three acres in question back to the seller, Lawrence Living Trust.
"That trust doesn't exist anymore," Kostohrys said, "so, that's out."
The next involves reenrolling the 3 acres and adding it to the 80 acres he still holds in the program.
However, Lambert wrote that he would be required to pay $10.68 per acre in taxes on all 83 acres instead of the $1.87 per acre he currently pays on the land still in the MFL program.
"Because you would be paying a higher tax rate on all 83 acres, this may not be an attractive option for you," Lambert wrote, "but the department wanted you to be aware of the way in which you might get the three acres that will be withdrawn back into the MFL program."
Kostohrys said the whole situation frustrates him to no end.
"I didn't ask for this. I did nothing wrong. Nothing wrong," he said. "It's not about the money. It's about being treated fairly and that's just not the case here. They're the ones that made the mistake in the first place. Why should I pay at all?"