Freedom – Town officials are looking to the Maine Revenue Service for advice on a tax abatement request from Beaver Ridge Wind. The owner of the three-turbine wind farm is asking the town to devalue the $10 million development by 30 percent.
When the turbines started producing energy in late 2008 they were the first in Central Maine Power Co.’s service area and among a small number in the state. The town initially valued them at $9.7 million based on BRW’s construction estimates but struggled over the next few years to find a figure that was agreeable to everyone. After a temporary bump, the value settled at $9.8 million and has remained there ever since.
According to BRW, that’s the problem.
The company contends that the turbines aren’t worth the same as when they were new. The town, they say, should have followed a standard depreciation formula used in other municipalities – 5 percent per year, based on a 20-year expected operating life.
BRW’s 2014 tax bill was $186,581.01, based on a valuation of $9.87 million.
The company is asking for depreciation based on the wind farm’s six years of operation. If approved, the abatement would save the company – or conversely, cost the town – $56,000 in taxes.
Depreciation could also affect how much Freedom pays into the local school district.
Property value is a key factor in Maine’s school funding formula; added value on the books often translates to less state aid.
Freedom’s share went up by roughly 20 percent in the years after Beaver Ridge Wind development went on the books, but not immediately. Due to a lag of two to three years in state assessments, the town got a honeymoon of sorts. During that time, the added tax revenue from the wind farm stayed in town.
If the abatement worked in the opposite way, Freedom would have several years of the same school district bills with slightly less money from tax proceeds to pay it. Though, as of this publication, it was unclear if that would actually be the case.
By law, any abatement the town gives to BRW would apply only to 2014 and later. It would not entitle the company to a refund on taxes paid in previous years.
Freedom town officials are scheduled to meet with Mike Rogers of Maine Revenue Service’s property tax division on April 27. The meeting was originally scheduled for April 13, but was moved after Rogers was unable to attend.
Selectman Steve Bennett said the town is looking to Rogers for an outside view of a fairly uncharted area of tax assessing.
“He probably has more knowledge about [wind turbine valuation] on the statewide level than anyone I know,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the selectmen, who serve in dual capacity as assessors, have held off on tackling the abatement until they could meet with Rogers.
“I think we have to be open,” he said. “We have to listen to what Beaver Ridge Wind has to say and what our assessors’ agent has to say and obviously what Mike Rogers has to say.”
He added that members of the public with an opinion should also be part of the conversation.
The meeting will be held on April 27 at 2 p.m. at Freedom Town Office.
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