BRETTON WOODS – Coos County commissioners Wednesday assured residents of the unincorporated place of Millsfield that they will do everything they can to prevent a dramatic increase in their property taxes as a result of the Granite Reliable Power wind farm.
The commissioners said there are sufficient funds this year to prevent any impact to Millsfield and Dixville property taxes. Coos Delegation Chairman Rep. Robert Theberge (D-Berlin), said he is working with state Senator Jeff Woodburn on proposed legislation to address the issue for all the unincorporated places long term.
As an unincorporated place, Millsfield residents have paid little or no property taxes. County records show that from 1999 to 2012, Millsfield residents received a tax bill only two years. In 2004, the tax rate was $5.07 per thousand dollars of valuation. In 2007, the tax rate was $6.64.
But the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration last year appraised the Granite Reliable Power wind park for the first time and placed the value of the components in Dixville and Millsfield at $211 million. Coos County unsuccessfully appealed the issue to the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals, arguing a DRA official in 2007 placed the valuation at $113 million. Coos County has appealed the BTLA decision to the N.H. Supreme Court.
The higher valuation for the wind park has driven up the total equalized valuations for Millsfield and Dixville, which contain the majority of the wind park. Millsfield’s equalized valuation went from $6.4 million to $180 million while Dixville’s went from $16.7 million to $54.4 million. While county officials have not calculated what the tax rate for the two unincorporated places based on the new valuations, Millsfield residents have said they fear the tax rate there will jump as high as $60 per thousand.
Joan Sweeney told the commissioners her family owns 217 acres in Millsfield and is very concerned about what is going to happen to the tax rate there. She said the property has been in her family for generations and they would like to keep it.
Sweeney questioned how the commission could sign a Payment-in-Lieu-of –Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Granite Reliable Power without considering the future impact on Millsfield’s valuation and taxes.
Commission Chair Tom Brady said the body did everything it could to protect the unincorporated places. Based on the $113 million estimate provided to county officials, the commission signed a PILOT agreement with Granite Reliable Power for an annual payment of $495,000 for the 99-megawatt wind farm. The payment is divided between two unincorporated places, with Millsfield receiving $390,000 and Dixville $104,990.
The county also received $334,365 from GRP in land use change tax revenues. Brady said that money will be used to prevent Millsfield and Dixville residents from any impact this year from the wind park valuation.
Commissioner Paul Grenier said the county is continuing to fight the DRA valuation with the Supreme Court appeal. He said the DRA has set the valuation of the Granite Reliable Power wind park at twice the value of the wind farm in Lempster per megawatt. Grenier said the 24-megawatt wind farm in Lempster is appraised at $34 million or $1.2 million per megawatt. He said the valuation for the entire 99-megawatt Granite Reliable Power facility is $240 million or $2.4 million per megawatt.
Grenier said it is important to keep taxes low in the unincorporated places, which are largely owned by major landowners and timber companies. He said the unincorporated places provide free and open land that is important for the local economy and recreational use.
Commissioner Rick Samson, who was not on the commission when the PILOT negotiations took place, reported he has asked the county delegation to appoint a special commission or committee to look into the entire wind park valuation and PILOT negotiations.
Brady responded that the problem is with the Department of Revenue Administration and not with the PILOT agreement.
Grenier said the commission will have an appraisal of the wind park performed. Coos County Administrator Jennifer Fish said a GRP wind park appraisal will be on the commission’s September agenda. The commission and Theberge met Wednesday in nonpublic session for 45 minutes with consultant George Sansoucy who operates a utility appraisal and engineering services firm.
The commission held its monthly meeting Wednesday at the Mount Washington Hotel’s conference center.
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