BROOKFIELD TOWNSHIP – This township joins many others in the area that are waiting for the Michigan Tax Tribunal to decide whether or not they owe money to wind developers.
“(You’ve) just got to ride it out and see what happens,” township assessor Doug Powers told the township board this week.
“You might have to pay some back. Maybe all of it, maybe part of it, maybe none of it. I would guess probably part of it. That’s usually what happens”
If the tribunal finds in favor of DTE and NextEra, the township will have to reimburse the developers about $35,000 for 2016, Powers said.
“Just don’t spend it all when you get it in,” Powers said.
Brookfield Township’s fees for legal representation on the issue have been over $1,000 a month for the last fiscal year, said township Clerk Mike Lorencz.
The township belongs to the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative (MERC), which consists of five counties: Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, Gratiot and Mason.
MERC has hired a law firm to represent the municipalities at the tax tribunal.
“We’re not alone. I think that does help. There’s five counties” Township Supervisor A. Charles Timmons said.
But Brookfield officials still “wish the tribunal would hurry up.”
Carl Osentoski, executive director of the Huron County Economic Development Corp. also coordinates MERC.
He said it could take a minimum of 18 months for the tribunal to decide an appeal.
“They could settle tomorrow, but to work through the tax appeal process it could take at a minimum of 18 months (up to) two years, three years,” Osentoski said.
Each individual property has to be a separate appeal, he said. “If there are 100 turbines in a development, that’s 100 tax appeals.”
At a hearing, a judge could fold all 100 into one appeal if the turbines are all in the same development, and if the landowners and wind developers agree.
Although the township is fighting to keep the money it collects from the wind developers, the taxable value of the township has increased more than three times since before the wind turbines were built.
“The first year I was here, there were no windmills, and the taxable value of the township was, I think, $28 million,” Powers said. “The second year with only most of them under construction, it doubled in value.”
The current taxable value of the township is around $92 million, Lorencz said.
There are two sets of multipliers for calculating the depreciating value of the turbines, Powers said.
“The state one starts the first year at 100 percent, drops to 80, then goes to 75, and then to 70 the fourth year. But we don’t have any that old yet,” Powers said.
MERC hired a consulting firm to determine multipliers as well, Powers said. They use: 99.1 for first year; 90.6 for the second year; and 82 for the third year.
He said the tribunal will decide which set of multipliers to use.
Lorencz told the Tribune that each turbine has $1.5 million in taxable value. The township collects 8 mills – 6 mills for roads, 1 mill for fire and 1 mill for township operations.
The wind developers are saying that each of the turbines are worth about $154,000 less than that in taxable value.
“But there would not be one penny of revenue if millages didn’t pass,” Lorencz said. “That’s the only thing that drives this. It’s the people that are voting for this stuff. Once they quit voting for it, it’s done.”
There are 29 wind turbines in question; three belong to NextEra and the remainder belong to DTE.
Lorencz told the Tribune that any county entity that makes revenue off millage would have to reimburse the companies if the tribunal rules in their favor.
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