Madison County Supervisors are at odds over whether the county should get a portion of the payments that will go to the towns and schools affected by the latest windmill project with Citizens Airtricity Energy LLC.
Chairman of the Board Rocky DiVeronica called a special board meeting Wednesday to consider an agreement with Airtricity so the county would get $500 per megawatt of electrical power as a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).
DiVeronica planned to conduct the meeting behind closed doors in executive session.
But Town of Smithfield Supervisor Richard Bargabos said that DiVeronica’s reason for executive session is not included in open meetings law and asked County Attorney John Campanie for clarification.
Campanie conceded that the contract DiVeronica planned to discuss “does not appear to fall squarely” into matters from which they can exclude the public, and the meeting remained open.
According to state law, wind energy systems are exempt from property taxes for 15 years.
“Alternative green energy is wholly tax exempt in New York state, unless the taxing jurisdictions opt out of that law, which requires a local law,” Bargabos said.
“If they don’t opt out they can still ask for an agreement for a PILOT that will be less than taxes,” said Budget Officer Russell Lura.
With 28.5 megawatts expected to be generated by 19 turbines located in Stockbridge, Madison and Eaton the county could receive a total of $14,250 a year.
The resolution also states the county’s share would increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index, which is a way to measure inflation.
The county’s share would be small compared to the expected $7,500 per megawatt that would go to the affected towns and school districts including Madison, Morrisville and Stockbridge Valley.
“The purpose to get some of this money is to put it toward the communication system,” DiVeronica said to explain why he is pursuing an agreement with Airtricity. “Trying to get the best we could for the county.”
The resolution had City of Oneida Supervisor Scott Henderson’s name at the bottom of it and said it came out of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, which Henderson chairs.
“I am uncomfortable presenting it as chairman,” he said because the resolution had not yet been discussed in committee.
The resolution ended up being tabled to the next board meeting, but was discussed by supervisors, some of whom came to the special meeting completely unaware of the situation.
“I can’t intelligently vote on this-I got here at 2:30 and all this hit me in the face,” said City of Oneida Supervisor James Rafte.
Budget Officer Russell Lura said that the county became involved last October but that there wasn’t a county position on it at the time.
Lura said the county gets involved in PILOTs “when the opportunity is offered to us.”
Lura said that Airtricity provided $50,000 to cover legal expenses and that $10,000 of it was to be used to hire an outside energy consultant to assist in negotiations.
Campanie said that outside counsel was hired because of the number of other things going on at the time including the Bureau of Indian Affairs public hearing and annual session meetings.
“I had the impression that the $50,000 escrow account was already set up for legal fees-not split for use,” said Town of Stockbridge Supervisor Alexander Stepanski.
Town of Smithfield Supervisor Richard Bargabos argued that the resolution could not be voted on because the agreement has not been filed nor has a policy for county involvement in windmill projects been written.
“This should be a public policy debate, the county should have a policy before entering into agreements with wind farms,” he said.
Other supervisors agreed that a policy should be drafted but that the decision of whether to be involved with the Airtricity project needed to be made sooner than it would take for a policy to be worked out.
“We have to determine as a board how much we want to participate and how much we want to subsidize wind power,” said Town of Nelson Supervisor Richard Williams.
Some supervisors felt that since a policy could not be devised and Airtricity and local school districts need a decision soon, the county should step back.
“Because of the timing of this project, we should bow out,” said Town of Lincoln Supervisor Doug Holdridge.
Some supervisors don’t want the county to interfere if it means the project can’t go forward.
“If the $500 to the county will terminate the project, I won’t vote for it,” said Town of Brookfield Supervisor Loren Corbin.
The Madison County Board of Supervisors will discuss this issue and make a decision at its next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 10 a.m.
“X number of dollars is in the pot, all we’re talking about is what chunk of the pie we’re after,” Stepanski said.
By LeeAnne Root, Dispatch Staff Writer
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