n another twist to Maine’s tax laws, Franklin, Hancock and Washington counties have become Tax Increment Financing districts to subsidize wind projects in their unorganized territories. Now, Somerset County is considering the same. Property owners in the unorganized territories are affected when a wind developer asks the county for a TIF.
The state collects the taxes in the unorganized territories, but when a county becomes a TIF district, the state sets the unorganized territories’ mil rate with the wind farm out of the mix. Consequently, we property owners in the unorganized territories pay a higher mil rate – sometimes for up to 30 years – because the tax base is not expanded.
The wind developer does pay property taxes, but the taxes don’t support education of children in the unorganized territories or fire fighting services. Instead, the state sends the taxes to the county. Then, the county gives the developer back a negotiated portion of the taxes and keeps the rest. However, the county must use its portion of the windfall to support new economic or community development only in the unorganized territories.
Counties can become TIF districts and not give a cent to the developer, according to Laura Santini-Smith, tax incentives director in charge of TIF issues for the state. Why do they? It is not like a wind developer can take its business elsewhere, as might be the case when a town uses a TIF to attract new development.
Wind developers already received the production tax credit from Washington to subsidize their projects. Now, we residents of unorganized territories pay higher property taxes so the wind developers bear even less of their capital investment. This adds insult to injury when many of us built homes and camps in the unorganized territories to escape development. It does not seem fair.
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