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SPRINGFIELD — An attempt to keep taxes for people who own wooded property from increasing moved forward Thursday when a House committee approved a non-binding resolution that would freeze timberland assessments at the 2005 tax year level.

Some lawmakers don't think the resolution will be enough to stop an Illinois Department of Revenue directive that requires county assessors to begin taxing timberland at the same rate as residential property.

"A resolution is not going to do us any good," said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. "A resolution doesn't carry the force of law. We need a piece of legislation that will freeze assessments."

Assessment increase feared

The state's actions could hike timberland assessments from as low as $2 an acre to as high as $65 an acre, argued many lawmakers, who are concerned about the impact on family farms and senior citizens living on fixed incomes.

The two-year moratorium outlined in the resolution, which had support from the Illinois Department of Revenue, also would create a task force to study the issue. The 12-member group would include four legislators and one representative from the governor's office, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Revenue, Department of Agriculture, the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University.

The governor also would be able to appoint a county assessor representative and a person with an agriculture background. The task force would complete its work by Dec. 31.

Landowners might clear land

Susan Donovan, with the Nature Conservancy, told lawmakers the change in assessments would push landowners to clear cut wooded property, destroying green space and increasing soil erosion along creeks and streams.

Donovan also said the moratorium would give more people time to enroll in a state-sanctioned forestry program, which would allow them to keep property taxes down. Currently, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a backlog for getting property owners into the program, she said.

State Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville, said a more long- term solution is needed other than having people rushing into the state's forestry program.

"We want people to have timberland management for the right reasons," he said. "Not just because they want to keep their taxes down."

The joint resolution goes to the House for a vote.

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