FREEDOM – A wind project developer won’t see lower taxes – at least for now.
On Monday night, selectmen voted to reject a new, lower value for a commercial wind project, in effect declining the developer’s request to reduce the value of its property by $1.4 million.
If the developer, Beaver Ridge Wind LLC, wishes to pursue the issue further, it may have to file an appeal with Waldo County Commissioners or the State Board of Property Tax Review.
Selectmen requested the new property appraisal on Jan. 17 after the developer asserted that the town overstated the value of its land.
Selectwoman Carol Richardson, who calculated the current value of the developer’s property, said Tuesday in a phone interview that she did not agree with the new, lower appraisal, but ultimately “it doesn’t matter if I agree or not. I know the people won’t agree; that’s who I work for. I have to keep them in mind.”
The company, owned by Patriot Renewables, of Quincy, Mass., in partnership with Maine’s MIRSAP LLC, has asked that its property be valued at about $9.46 million, which is about $1.4 million less than its current assessed value of $10.8 million.
Before deciding whether to authorize the reduction – which would represent a $14,000 decrease in property taxes paid to the town – selectmen asked an independent appraiser to assess the value of the wind development project.
Jackie Robbins, assessor’s agent, presented selectmen on Monday with her total: $9.6 million.
Her number – $1.2 million less than the current value – is based on all Freedom’s property values being at about 89 percent of fair market value.
Todd Presson, chief operating officer of Patriot Renewables, said on Tuesday he was surprised by selectmen’s quick decision to reject the assessor’s appraisal and by the fact he was not notified of the meeting.
He is not asking the town to return the money that his company believes it overpaid in 2010 taxes, he said; he wants the property value adjusted for future assessments.
“We know exactly how much it cost because we built it, so we provided all the documentation for that, and I just don’t know what method the appraiser used or Carol is using,” he said.
Robbins told selectmen that she used an assessing manual called Marshall & Swift and assessed the turbines at the low end of the value scale.
“All I can say is she used them at the lowest price. I don’t feel, and Clint don’t feel, they’re the cheapest windmills built in Maine,” Richardson said.
Phone calls to Robbins Tuesday seeking comment were not returned.
Richardson and Selectman Clint Spaulding voted to reject the new assessment. Chairman Ron Price abstained from voting because he leases his property to the developer.
Spaulding said he doesn’t disagree with either Robbins’ or Richardson’s appraisal and it would be best for another party to examine the abatement request.
“If they want an abatement at this time, they’re going to have to go somewhere else,” he said.
In March 2009, the developer said the cost of the turbines and all design and construction costs totaled $9.77 million. After examining its project costs in more detail, it adjusted them in May 2009 to $9.46 million, deleting out costs incurred as a result of lawsuits challenging local permits.
At that time, the town’s tax-filing deadline had passed, Richardson said, and the project was assessed at $9.77 million.
In 2010, she increased the assessed value to $10.8 million. The value was increased not because she used a different assessment method, Richardson said, but because the value of all the town’s property rose to 89 percent of fair market value, and the wind development project’s value rose accordingly.
There are several ways to assess property, but determining the value of turbines is a difficult task, said Dave Ledew, director of the property tax division of Maine Revenue Services.
“It is not a real straightforward issue right now as to how you value windmills. Three or four years from now it will be a lot clearer, but it’s a new industry and there are so many variables. It’s a tough and open issue at this point in time,” Ledew said.
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