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Supreme Court accepts county wind park valuation appeal

BERLIN – The battle over the valuation of the Granite Reliable Power wind park’s components in the unincorporated places of Millsfield and Dixville will move to the state Supreme Court.
The court last week accepted the Coos County Commission’s appeal of the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals decision upholding the state Department of Revenue Administration’s valuation of the wind park. The commission has until Nov. 12 to file its brief in the case and the DRA has a Dec. 12 deadline for its brief.
In preparation of the court appeal, the county commissioners at their monthly meeting last week voted to have an appraisal done on the wind park components in Millsfield and Dixville.
Commissioner Paul Grenier initially proposed the county hire utility appraiser and consultant George Sansoucy of Lancaster. But Chairman Tom Brady said under county procedures, the commission has to go out to bid for any contract over $5,000. Estimating it will cost $25,000 to $30,000 for the appraisal, Grenier moved to advertise for bids to do the appraisal. Bids will be due on Oct. 2 so the commission can make a decision at its October meeting. Millsfield and Dixville will cover the cost of the appraisal.
In reaching a Payment-in-Lieu-of- Taxes (PILOT) with GRP, the county said it relied on an estimated appraisal of $113 million provided by DRA official Scott Dickman at a meeting with the commission in 2007. The county then negotiated a PILOT calling for annual payments of $5,000 per megawatt of installed capacity for a total payment of $495,000. County officials said with a valuation of $113 million, the PILOT would cover the increased tax bill to the two unincorporated places because of the wind park. Residents in Millsfield and Dixville historically have paid little or no property taxes because revenues, including timber tax receipts, cover the cost of services.
But last year, the DRA appraised the wind park assets in Dixville and Millsfield at $211 million. DRA officials testified at the BTLA hearing that the $113 million was not an opinion of value but rather an estimate based on a value of $2.5 to $3.5 million per turbine for the 33- turbine park. County officials testified the impact of the higher valuation would be a significant increase in property taxes for the residents of Millsfield and Dixville.
The commission appealed the DRA valuation to the N.H. Board of Tax and Land, which last month ruled in favor of the DRA. The commission then appealed the BTLA ruling to the N.H. Supreme Court.
County officials and delegation members have pledged to protect Millsfield and Dixville residents from a large property tax increase this year. The county has $334,365 it received in land use tax revenues for Millsfield and Dixville as well as the $485,000 PILOT payment.
The county delegation and state Senator Jeff Woodburn are both working on legislation that would deal with the issue long-term.
The issue of PILOT and utility valuations has raised concerns from Berlin officials. The city has negotiated a PILOT for the Burgess BioPower biomass plant. The city did hire an appraisal of the plant and property by Sansoucy before entering into the PILOT.