ITHACA – Tompkins County legislators have a public hearing Tuesday on a proposed local law that would block property owners from taking advantage of a state tax exemption on renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, because the state law doesn’t distinguish between commercial and residential property.
The hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Tompkins County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga St.
The proposal is an exemption to New York state’s Real Property Tax Law 487. The state law keeps property owners from paying increased taxes when their property becomes more valuable after installing a renewable energy system.
Some legislators have supported the county exemption because state law gives the same tax break to residential and commercial renewable power installations, according to Tompkins County Department of Assessment Director Jay Franklin. He said the county legislature doesn’t have the power to allow only residential exemptions and not commercial.
“The thing about this exemption is that it treats solar panels the same as it treats a commercial wind farm,” Franklin said. “Most of the real property tax exemptions make some distinction between a residential use and a commercial use.”
Franklin said property owners in the county aren’t getting the tax exemption because renewable power installations aren’t causing property values to increase. However, he expects to see renewable installations increase property value if energy prices increase.
The Assessment Department is having owners of residential renewable energy systems apply for the state exemption, and if the local law passes, their tax emption on increased property value will be grandfathered in.
Sustainable Tompkins President Gay Nicholson has written in The Journal that the county is a recognized leader in the push for a clean energy economy.
The Legislature is slated to vote on the local law May 15. It passed unanimously at the committee level.
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