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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow He owns a tractor, but he isn't a farmer

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He owns a tractor, but he isn't a farmer

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Dwayne Fisher owns a tractor, but he is no farmer.

Thus Fisher, who lives on 10 forested acres along Pine Creek west of Baker City, was surprised when employees from the county planning department told him the woodworking shop and garage he was putting up might qualify as farm building.

It was in fact a $270 surprise — the cost of the building permit Fisher would not have to buy if his structure qualified.

"I questioned it at the time," said Fisher, who first visited the county planning department in May to buy a land-use permit.

"I said this is not for agriculture; I don't do agriculture," Fisher said.

Nonetheless, he said the county employees told him that although he still needed electrical and plumbing permits, he did not need to buy a structural permit.

He thought about the situation for a few weeks, then returned to the planning department.

Fisher said employees again told him he could qualify for the exemption.

He read the affidavit the department provides for people in such situations.

It states that the exemption applies only for land that meets the definition for farm use under Oregon law, which reads, in part: "the current employment of land for the primary purpose of obtaining a profit in money by raising, harvesting, and selling crops or the feeding, breeding, management and sale of, or the produce of, livestock, poultry, fur-bearing animals or honeybees."

Fisher said that definition worried him — he doesn't do any of those things.

He just wanted to build a 900-square-foot shop where he could carve wood and park his rigs.

Fisher said that on his application he described the building's use as, simply, "shop."

He said an employee replaced that with "tractor storage."

Fisher said he uses his tractor to plow snow from his driveway, not to harrow fields. He doesn't have any fields.

Still, he ended up signing the affidavit and claiming the exemption.

Then, while taking in the Independence Day festivities in Haines, Fisher ran into Larry Rockenbrant.

Rockenbrant is the Baker City/County building official, the person who, according to Oregon law, decides who qualifies for agricultural building exemptions.

Fisher said Rockenbrant told him he had seen Fisher's paperwork, copies of which the county forwards to Rockenbrant's office in Baker City Hall.

Fisher said Rockenbrant explained that he did not qualify for the exemption.

"I told him I had debated about which way to go all along," Fisher said.

Four days later Fisher went to City Hall and paid $270 for his permit.

"I thought I'd just do it legal," he said. "The $270 isn't going to make or break me."

Fisher said he's still surprised the county employees even suggested he might qualify for the agricultural exemption, considering he emphasized to them that he is not a farmer.

"I wouldn't say that they pressured me to do it at all," he said. "They just told me I could."

Mark Bennett, head of the planning department, said employees there provide customers with all relevant information — including agricultural exemptions — but they do not advise people about what they should or should not claim.

That's one reason the department last fall started requiring property owners to sign the affidavit, he said.

Bennett said the planning department's main goal is to save customers time and money if possible.

Fisher said he understands that.

"I know they're trying to help me save a little money," he said. "But I didn't qualify for (the exemption) at all."

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