Lower assessments are provided to encourage open-space land in urban areas. Owners may petition the county assessor to classify land as agricultural (minimum tract size 15 acres), forest (minimum tract size 15 acres), or open space (minimum tract size three acres). An open space easement of at least 15 contiguous acres granted to a qualified conservation organization also qualifies for greenbelt treatment. If so classified by the assessor, the land is assessed and taxed at its use value. Normally, land is appraised at the value an arms-length purchaser would pay. Use value is calculated by capitalizing the annual income a property owner is earning by using his or her land. T.C.A. § 67-5-1008(c) caps the amount greenbelt land can increase in value because of a reappraisal at 6 percent multiplied by the number of years since the latest reappraisal.
An appeals procedure is provided for adverse decisions by the assessor. To limit the fiscal impact and inequities of this tax break, a maximum of 1,500 acres for one owner in any one taxing jurisdiction is fixed, and affiliated ownership is to be included for any person with legal or equitable title in more than 50 percent of the land ownership. Non-contiguous tracts must be located in the same county to qualify as agricultural land for greenbelt purposes. A procedure is provided for determining annually additional taxes that would be payable if the land were assessed at its real value. If the land is subsequently converted to any other use, such cumulative taxes for the preceding three years (agricultural and forest) or five years (open space) – referred to as rollback taxes – must be paid on the first assessment roll following the conversion.
When the assessor determines that there is a liability for rollback taxes, the assessor notifies only the tax-collecting official. This official must then send a notice demanding payment to the responsible person.
The act that created the use value assessments provides a more sure and direct method for a municipality to preserve its open space. Cities and counties also are empowered to expend funds to acquire "the fee or any lesser interest…necessary to achieve the purposes of this act". T.C.A. §§ 67-5-1001–1050.