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Kingston officials debate ‘green’ revenue

KINGSTON – The Green Energy Committee wants revenue generated through “green” projects to be deposited in an enterprise fund taxpayers could borrow from at low-interest rates to install wind turbines, solar panels or other energy efficient improvements on their property. The Finance Committee wants this revenue, which could weigh in at between $500,000 and $1 million annually, to be deposited in the town’s general fund to pay for needed equipment, building maintenance and/or a myriad of other necessary town expenses.

After a lengthy debate, selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to have town counsel draft two Town Meeting proposals – one that would ask for an amendment to Home Rule legislation to allow this enterprise fund to be used for taxpayer loans for green initiatives, and another that would allow a portion of this green revenue to go to the general fund and a portion to be used for taxpayer green loans.

Green Energy Committee Chairman and Selectman Marc Beaton made an impassioned plea that revenue through leases, taxes and power purchase agreements on the solar energy field and wind turbines planned for the town’s landfill site be used to generate more green, or environmentally sound, initiatives. Using this money to pay town bills is short sighted, he said, and won’t put significant dollars in taxpayers’ wallets. Giving a property owner the opportunity to borrow the money at low interest to install new, energy-efficient windows or solar panels, helps that taxpayer cut utility costs for years of savings, he said.

“We want all this money to go the general fund,” Finance Committee Chairman Elaine Fiore countered. Department heads are trying to fund equipment they need, money is needed to maintain town buildings that are falling into disrepair, the transfer station must be reconfigured and a myriad of other needs are clamoring to be met, she said. The Finance Committee is anxious to ensure that revenue is matched with expenses, member Paul Ricci added. Every year unexpected expenses arise, and these are particularly challenging with revenue at all time lows due to the economy, he said.

Green Committee member Pine duBois noted that sea levels are rising and land is disappearing. Homes generate more greenhouse gasses than any other source, she added, and New England is the fifth largest generator of these gasses in the world. While individual taxpayers could realize a $35 tax reduction with the new revenue, which would be approximately $500,000 annually through town projects and more through Mary O’Donnell’s proposed turbine project, these taxpayers will reap a much greater savings through “green” loans that cut utility costs, Foster Lane resident Mark Robinson said. He stressed that these loans would provide local jobs as well, providing a needed boost to the economy.

But Selectmen Chairman Sandra MacFarlane said the loans may only benefit a select few residents who can afford the monthly loan payments.

“To isolate the money and restrict what it can be used for – I don’t see that as benefiting everyone,” Selectman Joseph Casna said.

Selectman Richard Arruda said he’s behind Beaton’s proposal to use the money for these taxpayer loans because using the money for town government will only expand that entity that’s big enough already.

Selectmen have to protect the taxpayers’ interests, Selectman Dennis Randall said, and should back initiatives that deliver the lowest taxes with the highest services. If there weren’t a recession, he said, he might back Beaton’s plan, but taxpayers should decide for themselves at Town Meeting how to spend the money.

Home Rule legislation needs to be amended in order to allow for taxpayer loans from the enterprise fund, which is currently supposed to cover operational costs associated with green projects. Town Meeting and the state Legislature would have to sign off on any such amendment. Selectmen said they will revisit this discussion when they have the two Town Meeting proposals in hand.