March 6, 2013

Lowell: wind payments reduce town tax bill to zero

Robin Smith, Staff Writer | 3/6/2013 |

LOWELL – Voters at Lowell town meeting Tuesday labored through the pleasant but confusing task of figuring out what to do with the first payments from the Lowell wind project.

In the end, voters overwhelmingly approved using tax payments and supplemental income from Green Mountain Power in 2013 to completely cover the municipal budget of $255,500 and other municipal costs totalling $470,000 this year, according to town treasurer Pam Tetreault.

The town will still have to raise taxes for state education property taxes.

The rest of the annual total payment from GMP, at $535,000, will go into a special fund voters created Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, voters approved most appropriations, except for $11,186 requested for coverage from the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department and for Indoor Recreation of Orleans County.

Voters rejected the sheriff’s appropriation by a three-vote margin, 56 in favor to 59 opposed. They passed over the IROC appropriation at the annual floor meeting in the graded school.

They also rejected the Wild and Scenic Designation for the Missisquoi and Trout rivers.

The wind discussion took most of the discussion time at the floor meeting that was left over after repeated paper ballots for elections.

Selectman Alden Warner survived a challenge from Robin Clark, receiving 105 votes to Clark’s 56.

Several incumbents were defeated. Lowell school board incumbent Kevin Hodgeman lost to Gilles Bathalon, 63 votes to 91.

And incumbent North Country Union High School director Diane Geoffroy was defeated by George Swanson, 44 to 92.

Wind Money

Voters voted to create the savings reserve fund for supplemental wind payments that were left over after the municipal budget and costs are met, a fund that only voters at town meeting or in a special vote could put to use.

Lerry Chase tried to interest voters in only covering half of the municipal budget with the Lowell wind tax payment, suggesting that 50 percent be set aside for future need.

But voters and select board members rejected that idea.

“A lot of people supported this wind project for the sake of a tax break,” Selectman Richard Pion said.

Several voters suggested that people may want to move to Lowell because of the lack of municipal taxes.

Others suggested that the town could revisit what to do with the money another year, once the entire tax and budget picture with full wind project payments are understood.

The town still must pay statewide education property taxes, which amount to two-thirds of the tax bill, re-elected treasurer Pam Tetreault said.

Voters did decide to take the partial first-year payment of $103,000 from GMP – based on turbines operating for a small part of 2012 – and split it in two.

Of that, $50,000 will go to offset the outstanding $130,000 loan taken out last year to deal with flood damage and $53,000 will go into the reserve fund of wind project payments.

Voters approved town and school budgets without discussion.

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