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ESTATE ON MAPLETON `GREENBELT’ NETS CANNON A BREAK IN TAX GREENBACKS

SHARE ESTATE ON MAPLETON `GREENBELT’ NETS CANNON A BREAK IN TAX GREENBACKS

Congressional candidate Chris Cannon's property-tax notice reflects a considerably lower amount than one would expect from the owner of a $1.5 million, 17-acre estate.

Cannon's exclusive Mapleton home and adjoining property lie in a "greenbelt" area, affording him thousands of dollars in tax breaks. The Utah Farmland Assessment Act allows qualifying agricultural property to be assessed and taxed based on its productive capability instead of the market value, which significantly lowers property taxes. The law is intended to lighten farmers' tax burden.Cannon, a Republican, is seeking to unseat three-term Democratic Rep. Bill Orton in Utah's 3rd Congressional District. Cannon also failed to list a portion of the property on the U.S. House of Representatives financial disclosure statement he is required to file, which could be a violation of House rules.

Until last year, all of Cannon's 17 acres at the base of Maple Mountain, which are taxed as two separate parcels, were in a greenbelt zone. According to Utah County property tax records, the land received that status in 1977, a dozen years before Cannon, a multimillionaire venture capitalist, owned it.

Property tax on a vacant eight-acre section with a market value of $145,846 ranged from $16 to $20 annually. The tax was based on a greenbelt value of $1,501, a figure determined by past agricultural production levels.

But after a 1995 countywide audit of greenbelt lands, the State Tax Commission decided Cannon's piece of ground didn't qualify because it was not used for farming. Utah County assessed Cannon $1,752 for 1996, according to county tax records. The county also attached a five-year "greenbelt rollback." Cannon must pay an additional $5,174, the amount he would have paid over the past five years had the property not been considered greenbelt.

Cannon, who estimates his net worth at $20 million, said through a campaign spokesman that he intends to protest the redesignation. He has asked his accountant to prepare an argument before the Board of Equalization, currently comprised of the three-member County Commission. Cannon will contend the land has historically been used for agriculture, said Steve Taggart, campaign spokesman.

Taggart said Cannon, who is in eastern Utah campaigning, asked him to field questions about the tax issue because he considers it a minor matter.

If the Board of Equalization rules against Cannon, Taggart said, he'll pay the tax by its Nov. 30 due date.

The remaining nine acres of Cannon's estate, including a $1.2 million house, remain in the greenbelt zone. Cannon paid $7,764 on the property in 1995, tax records show. The assessment would have been $9,286 without the greenbelt label. Similar reductions would hold true for previous years.

Cannon raises hay on the land surrounding his house, Taggart said. The candidate owns a tractor he likes to putter around on to relieve stress, he said.

Cannon will have to continue to prove to Utah County the land is used for farming. The county sends regular re-application notices to greenbelt property owners to ensure the land is properly taxed.

None of the 17 acres Cannon owns is listed on his congressional financial disclosure statement. Only his personal residence is exempt from disclosure.

"That's probably an oversight. That probably should have been listed," Taggart said.

Cannon is not the only greenbelt property owner in Mapleton facing questions about the status of his land. Residents are fighting to retain that status, while new homes continue to encroach on traditional farmlands.

"It's inherent to what's happening in the area," Taggart said.