If Luzerne County tax officials get their way, the new wind farm atop Bald Mountain will pump out more than half a million dollars in new tax revenue each year.
The county last week mailed a bill with new assessments that equate to $133,660 in annual tax dollars for the county and $411,259 for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District from wind farm landowners Anthony and Lillian Lupas and Edward and Joyce Banaszek, said county assessor’s office director Tony Alu.
But school and county leaders can’t bank the money yet because the taxation of wind farms is still somewhat uncharted territory and the property owners have 40 days to appeal to the county Board of Assessment Appeals, Alu said.
He declined to say how the county calculated the Bald Mountain bill.
The landowners could not be reached for comment, but officials from the wind farm developer ““ Community Energy Inc. ““ are reviewing the paperwork, said company spokesman Eric Blank.
Blank said businesses associated with the farm were expecting a tax bill, but not that high. He said the owners of the wind farm pay the taxes, not the landowner.
In recent state-level discussions about how to tax wind farms, government and industry leaders concluded that the windmill bases and towers are not real estate, said Doug Hill, head of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
Instead, the tax value should be based on how much the value of the land has increased because of the location of a wind farm, said Hill.
That’s the approach used by Somerset County to value 32 windmills there, said Jane Rizzo, assistant chief assessor.
The taxing bodies in Somerset County receive about $30,000 in tax dollars, and that amount has not been challenged since it was implemented in 1999, Rizzo said.
The taxation of a wind farm in Wayne County ““ the only other one in Pennsylvania ““ is embroiled in a court challenge, Alu said.
Alu said he wants to wait and see if the amount is appealed before he goes into detail about the formula used by Luzerne County.
There are 12 windmills on Bald Mountain, and the landowners receive some revenue from the operator.
The assessed value of the land owned by the Lupas’ has increased from $1,860 before the wind farm to a current $1.16 million, Alu said. The assessed value of the Banaszek parcel has increased from $1,660 to $246,560.
The wind farm owners have agreed to pay Bear Creek Township $3,000 per year per turbine, or $144,000 per year, in lieu of taxes.
The school and county are hunting for new revenue to cover rising expenses. The county receives about $66 million in property tax revenue, while Wilkes-Barre Area pulls in $34.6 million.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.
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