IMAGE: Ben Mollica
Anthony Fazio owns what he figures is one of the last large working farms within Portland city limits, raising pickling cucumbers and wheat on 60 acres near the Columbia Edgewater Country Club.
The business barely supports Fazio, 48, and his brother and parents. But he’s proud to scrape by.
“This is our history,” he says. “This is what we do.”
But now Fazio says a broken promise by Multnomah County Assessment & Taxation has saddled him with $468,000 in back taxes. And for squeezing Portland’s last farm, those bean counters harvest this week’s Rogue dishonors.
Since Fazio’s farm sits on low land with diseased soil and a short growing season, he hatched a plan in 1999 to truck in soil that would let him raise the ground six feet.
Under state law, farms can’t be out of cultivation for more than two years and still qualify for a significant break on property taxes. Fazio knew raising the soil level would take longer than that, so he asked the county’s Assessment & Taxation to let him keep his property tax break even though the land would be out of action for more than two years.
Fazio says Assessment & Taxation officials made that promise in 2001 in a verbal agreement. Last year, the soil work was still continuing when county officials stunned Fazio, telling him after six years that he had forfeited his farm tax status after all. On top of back taxes, the county wants to change his land designation and up his future bills by $150,000 a year.
County spokesman Shawn Cunningham declined to comment because of pending litigation. Fazio says he’s appealing the case to Oregon Tax Court. “If we lose,” he says, “we won’t be farming no more.”