Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County in case of In Re: Appeal of Walter M. Phillips and Mary B. Phillips from the Bucks County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes (Board of Assessment Appeals), Order No. 77-9327-10-6.
Spencer A. Manthorpe, with him, of counsel, Hepburn, Ross, Willcox & Putnam, for appellants.
Robert L. White, for appellee.
Judges Mencer, Blatt and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.
Walter M. Phillips and Mary B. Phillips, husband and wife (appellants) owned a farm of approximately 104 acres in Solebury Township, Bucks County. A preferential assessment was afforded to this farmland, pursuant to the provisions of the Pennsylvania Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act of 1974 (Act 319), Act of December 19, 1974, P.L. 973, 72 P.S. § 5490.1 et seq.
By deed dated December 29, 1976, appellants conveyed to their three children a 21.003-acre portion and a 47.002-acre portion of their farm, retaining for
themselves the messuage and farm buildings and the remaining tract of 35.841 acres. On May 24, 1977, the Board of Assessment Appeals (Board) notified the appellants that they had breached the "319 Covenant" and consequently owed "the difference between the real property taxes paid and the taxes which would have been payable absent the Covenant." Following a requested hearing, the Board renewed its decision that the gifts of land by the appellants to their children constituted a breach of Act 319. Appellants' appeal to the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County was denied. Appellants filed exceptions to the trial court's ruling which were dismissed, and this appeal followed. We reverse.
The issue to be decided in this appeal is the proper interpretation of Section 6 of Act 319, 72 P.S. § 5490.6. That section reads as follows:
(a) Separation or split-off of a part of the land which is being valued, assessed and taxed under this act either by conveyance or other action of the owner of such land for a use other than agricultural or agricultural reserve or forest reserve shall, except when the separation occurs through condemnation, subject the land so separated and the entire parcel from which the land was separated to liability for the roll-back taxes as set forth in section 8 of this act [72 P.S. § 5490.8] except as provided in subsection (b).
(b) The owner of property subject to a preferential tax assessment may transfer land covered by the preferential tax assessment: Provided, That the tract of land so transferred shall not exceed two acres annually and may only be used for residential, agricultural, or forest reserve use ...