County upset to discover secret agreement between Millsfield property owners and Granite Reliable Power
WEST STEWARTSTOWN – Two Coos County Commissioners Wednesday sharply criticized Millsfield property owners after county officials discovered the property owners had entered into a secret agreement with Granite Reliable Power that protected them from any property tax increase as a result of the wind farm in the unincorporated place.
Coos County Commissioner Paul Grenier said several times Millsfield property owners came to the commission to complain that the wind farm was going to dramatically increase their property taxes. Last year the 11 property owners individually filed for 2013 property tax abatements under a poverty exemption, arguing the wind farm had increased property taxes, making it impossible for them to sell their properties. The request was denied.
Grenier noted the commission appealed the 2012 Department of Revenue Administration’s $228 million assessment of the wind farm before both the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals and the N.H. Supreme Court. The commission argued the $113 million valuation used as the basis of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement between the county and Granite Reliable Power should prevail. The PILOT agreement the county signed with Granite Reliable Power in 2007 set the annual tax payment at $495,000.
Finally, the county delegation successfully got the state legislation to pass a bill requiring DRA to use the PILOT figure to protect the Millsfield and Dixville taxpayers from any property tax increase because of the higher assessment.
Grenier said it now turns out the Millsfield property owners had signed an agreement with Granite Reliable Power in March 2009 that requires Granite Reliable Power to reimburse the property owners for any increase in property taxes caused by the wind farm.
In exchange, the Millsfield property owners agreed to support and cooperate with Granite Reliable Power in the permitting, developing, and operation of the wind farm.
“These people have been kicking, screaming, demonizing us …. and all the time they had this agreement,” Grenier said. “These folks lied to the board, they lied to the press, they lied to the legislature, and have essentially been stealing money,” he added.
Grenier pointed out that Millsfield property owners have actually paid property taxes only once or twice in the last 20 years. Timber tax and other revenues offset usually operating costs in the unincorporated places.
While not as vocal, Commission Chairman Tom Brady indicated he was upset as well with the discovery.
County Administrator Jennifer Fish said county officials only learned of the agreement Tuesday when Brookfield Renewable Power, the majority owner of Granite Reliable Power, called the county business office to get copies of 2014 tax bills for Millsfield property owners Johanne Dionne, Wayne and Kathleen Urso, Propan Realty, Thomas Claflin, Charles and Sonja Sheldon, Jacqueline Hines, Lewis and Paula Sweatt, Luc and Louise Cote, Shawn and Victoria Cote, Mark and Sherrel Sandoe, and Adam and Patricia Mazur. The Brookfield agent said the tax bills were required as part of the agreement and sent a copy of the agreement to the county.
Fish said the agreement has been forwarded to Attorney Jonathan Frizzell, who represented the county in the wind park assessment cases, for his evaluation. Copies were also released to the press yesterday and will be posted on the county’s web page.
Commissioner Rick Samson said he opposed the wind park from the beginning but said he was unaware of the agreement between Millsfield property owners and Granite Reliable Power.
“This is the first I’ve seen of this agreement today,” he said.
Samson said he wanted a chance to study the agreement before commenting further.
County Treasurer Fred King cautioned the commission that Brookfield’s support is necessary for the redevelopment of the Balsams Grand Resort. He said Brookfield has to support a request by the Balsams developers to reduce the safety zone around the wind turbines. He said the Balsams plan calls for withdrawing water from the Androscoggin River where Brookfield has water rights. He said the Balsams project is essential to the region’s economy.
Efforts to contract several Millsfield property owners were not successful by press time Wednesday
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