MILLSFIELD & DIXVILLE – A nearly five-hour hearing took place on Friday, June 28, in Concord on the Coös County commissioners’ appeal of the state Department of Revenue Administration’s equalized valuation for Millsfield and Dixville. These are the two Unincorporated Places where Granite Reliable Power (GRP) installed a total of 33 wind turbines, designed to generate 99 megawatts of electricity for transmission onto the Coös Loop to the New England grid.
The DRA board must release its decision no later than July 22.
The board of commissioners – chairman Tom Brady of Jefferson, vice chairman Paul Grenier of Berlin, and clerk Rick Samson of Stewartstown – have not discussed that the case is underway at its public meetings.
Jonathan Frizzell and Phil Waystack of the Colebrook law firm of Waystack Frizzell represented the county commissioners at the hearing.
DRA issued an equalized valuation for the two Unincorporated Places (UPs) that takes into account the valuation of the wind farm. The county, however, valued the wind farm at zero because it has a 10-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with GRP, based on its total value of $113 million.
DRA maintains that the wind farm has a value that is double that amount.
GRP, a renewable energy company, is owned 75 percent by Brookfield, a Canadian company, and 25 percent by Freshet Wind Energy, that is under the aegis of Wagner Forest Management, LTD, in Lyme.
But the county commissioners, who serve as the selectmen for the UPs, maintain that the state DRA specifically recommended at a meeting held over five years ago in Dec. 2007 in Lancaster that this would be a reasonable valuation for the then-not-yet-built wind farm. Then-county administrator Sue Collins took minutes – now public – at that meeting.
Commissioner Tom Brady of Jefferson testified at the June 28 hearing that this 2007 meeting – referred to as an “educational meeting” by DRA participants – was the full extent of his due diligence efforts. Brady said he does not know whether or not then-chairman Burnham “Bing” Judd of Pittsburg did any additional research.
The commissioners did not hire any consultants or experts at that time, and they did not hire an appraiser to value the wind farm after it was operational, but instead relied solely on what the they call “the state’s representation.”
In his summation, attorney Frizzell called the results of the Dec. 2007 meeting “a failure of state government.”
County treasurer Fred King of Colebrook testified that he thought that the wind farm would not only keep the timberlands on Coös’ Unincorporated Places economically viable but also keep them out of the hands of the federal government that doesn’t cut much wood. The forestland tracts make up the county’s “wood basket,” he said. Wood is used by Coös County’s traditional industries and also generates a 10 percent timber tax when trees are harvested, King said. Having undeveloped tracts of “industrial” forest, open to public use, also supports tourism and outdoor recreation.
King said that doubling the equalized valuation in Millsfield and Dixville would be “unfair” and that it “makes no sense.” Sharply increasing the property taxes in Dixville could thwart the plans of the new owners of The Balsams’ to renovate the Grand Hotel and operate the resort, he said, and would also be devastating to the 25 residents of Millsfield. Taxpayers in these two Unincorporated Places now pay no or very low taxes because the timber taxes supply sufficient revenue to cover their very limited service expenses. No tax bills were sent in 2012 to landowners in these two UPs.
When county administrator Jennifer Fish was asked whether she had calculated the dollar amounts of property tax bills that would have to be sent out in Millsfield and Dixville under the DRA’s equalized valuations, she replied that she had not done the math but believed they would be exponentially higher.
A DRA witness pointed out that the press had widely reported that the capital investment in the Granite Reliable Wind Farm would be in the range of $250 to $275 million, making it among the state’s most valuable properties.
Furthermore, the land use change tax charged for taking land for each of the 33 turbines out of current use that was collected in Jan. 2013 totaled $334,000. This, the DRA witness said, could be used to offset any increased taxes in Millsfield and Dixville.
The county’s lawyers tried to call Brian Fogg of Whitefield to the stand but, since advance notice of his appearance was apparently not properly made, he could not testify. Fogg works for George “Skip” Sansoucy at his Engineering and Appraisal Services firm that specializes in utility properties.
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