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State Supreme Court issues split decision in county tax dispute

CONCORD – The state Supreme Court issued a split decision in the dispute between Coos County and the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals over the 2012 equalized valuations for the unincorporated places of Millsfield and Dixville.

The Coos County commission asked the court to rule the N.H. Board of Tax and Land erred when it upheld the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration’s equalized valuations for the two unincorporated places based on a $228 million appraisal of the wind farm.

In an opinion released Wednesday, the court reversed part of the BTLA’s decision and remanded it back to the board for a rehearing. The court also upheld part of the BTLA’s decision.

The court decision, however, may become moot because the legislature this session passed a bill that sets the value of the wind farm at $113 million – the figure used by the county in calculating a Payment In Lieu of Tax (PILOT) agreement with Granite Reliable Power, the owner of the wind farm. The bill has not yet reached Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk for her signature. A spokesman for Hassan said, “she will closely review it as it reaches her desk.”

In the lawsuit, the county said DRA appraiser Scott Dickman had estimated the value of the wind farm at $113 million at a non-public meeting with county officials in 2007. The county said it used that figure in calculating the PILOT agreement.

But when calculating the utility property tax for the two places in 2012, DRA set the valuation of the wind farm at $228 million. Because the county had not had the wind farm appraised, the DRA used its utility appraisal in calculating the total equalized values for both unincorporated places. Millsfield’s value increased from $6.4 million to $180.3 million and Dixville’s value went from $16.6 million to $54.4 million.

The court upheld the BTLA’s decision that Dickman’s statement “could not reasonably have been relied upon by the CCC as a commitment by the DRA that $113 million would be the true market value of the Windpark.”

But the court agreed with the commissioners that BTLA erred in denying the commissioners access to the DRA utility appraisal used to determine the wind farm’s valuation. The court said the county did not have an opportunity to challenge or discredit the appraisal. But the court said the county is only entitled to access to the appraisal at a further hearing before the BTLA.

As a result of the DRA equalization values, property taxes in Millsfield and Dixville have nearly doubled. In the past, the residents paid little or no property taxes because timber tax revenues covered the few expenses. Millsfield has 25 residents and Dixville has one resident. The county used the $495,000 PILOT payment from Granite Reliable Power and $334,365 in land use tax revenues to offset the impact of the new values. But the commissioners have warned the land use tax funds were a one-time revenue.

North Country officials have said passage of HB 1590 is important to efforts to redevelop the Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville.