The company that hopes to build a wind power farm in Parishville and Hopkinton has dozens of signed leases from property owners to allow the windmills – as high as 500 feet tall from the bases to the blade tips – on their land.
And the company says it probably will be asking the two towns, the Parishville-Hopkinton School District, and St. Lawrence County to allow the company to make payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs.
If so, each of those entities will have to decide, one by one, if they will grant those tax breaks.
Meanwhile the supervisors of the two towns, the school superintendent and the county legislator representing the area recently met to discuss the proposed development and their role in it.
“At the moment, we have executed 36 leases,” said Paul Copleman. spokesman for Avangrid, the developer of the proposed North Ridge Wind Farm between State Rts. 11B and 72 in Parishville and Hopkinton.
Property owners in the area are being offered thousands of dollars a year to sign contracts to allow the windmills placed on their land. The development will also require roads and some buildings.
“As for the possibility of some form of PILOT, we’re hoping to have a discussion to figure out the best way to meet community needs with substantial and new tax revenue for many years while at the same providing a stable and predictable tax treatment of any investment,” said Avangrid’s Copleman.
Asked what that meant, Copleman said, “We would likely be seeking a PILOT.”
The recent meeting of the supervisors and school and county representatives was not official in any way.
“All we’ve done to this point is share information pro and anti from various folks in our respective communities,” said Parishville Town Supervisor Rodney Votra.
“We’re trying to figure out just what it is that it will bring to the community,” said Parishville-Hopkinton School Superintendent Darin Saiff.
“We want to inform ourselves with as much information as we can get to make a decision, well informed,” Saiff said.
“We’re trying to do the best job we can with the accessible information,” he said.
Those local officials have lots of information sift through, from presentations at board meetings from local group Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation, Avangrid, and individual citizens, as well as how other communities that have had to make decisions about their wind power proposals have done, and legal aspects of the proposal.
Saiff said they want to see “what happens from every aspect, financially and socially, if wind power comes in.”
“I expect it will get a little more exciting as the wind company begins filing for permits, etc., and making their presence more apparent,” Votra said.
The other representatives at that meeting were Hopkinton Town Supervisor Susan Wood and District 7 County Legislator for Rick Perkins.
If the wind-power development in Parishville and Hopkinton goes forward, local governments are likely to be faced with deciding if they are going to grant the company tax abatements in return for payments.
If asked by Avangrid, the town councils in Hopkinton and Parishville, the Parishville-Hopkinton Board of Education and the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators will have to decide if they will allow the company to be forgiven paying some taxes on the assessed value of their windmill installations and other equipment, making smaller payments over time instead.
Such arrangements usually allow a new or expanding business to pay a fraction of the property tax they would ordinarily be billed for in return for other benefits, such as new jobs in the community.
There has been speculation about whether or not any PILOT has to be agreed to by those five taxing entities unanimously, or if the two towns, school district and county can make separate deals with the company.
It appears that if there is financing from the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency or its associated agencies, and a request for a PILOT, any decisions by the five entities on PILOTs would have to be unanimous.
“If the taxing jurisdictions were to ask for IDA involvement and were to support a PILOT, there would still have to be a determination by the IDA board if they were to approve such an incentive,” said IDA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Kelly.
The standard IDA assistance package for a company maintains tax abatements for 10 years, Kelly said.
“From what I’ve seen so far, such a project would require longer abatement schedules,” he said.
The company would be the one to apply to the IDA for assistance, and they could apply without any local PILOTS.
“But it’s all theoretical at this point,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing so far.”
The IDA has not been contacted by the company yet, Kelly said, but there “were some discussions with the school and towns, but very early, on a conceptual level” he said. “They were just trying to understand what IDA involvement would be, if at all.”
“It’s hard to envision one jurisdiction having a pilot and the others do not. Typically for a project to work they would need to have consent from all. If a project crosses several towns, it’s difficult to imagine one would have a pilot and another would not,” he said.
As for the county’s involvement, “the county board has the authority to waive taxes should it decide to – for only the county, not for others,” said County Attorney Stephen Button.
As for the other taxing jurisdictions, they can make their own decisions, Button said.
His reading of Real Property Tax Law section 487, is that “it is a permissive statute, not mandatory. It would seem to suggest each municipality has the authority to enter into their own PILOT.”
There is precedent in St. Lawrence County for separate PILOT deals on the same project in separate taxing jurisdictions.
In 2013, the Massena Town Council approved a PILOT for SeaComm Federal Credit Union’s expansion of their main branch on Stearns Street.
In early 2014, the Massena Village Board of Trustees seemed split on the issue. But ultimately the board did not get a motion to grant it, so no vote was taken, and no PILOT was approved.
After that the Massena Central School District Board of Education was asked by SeaComm to forget their request.
“SeaComm asked us to drop it…they know they’re not going to get it,” said then-board vice-president Ron Faucher in February 2014.
So the town was the only entity that gave a PILOT tax break the go-ahead.
Avangrid is an Iberdrola Renewables company. Iberdrola, based is Spain, is a major developer and supplier of renewable energy. Its U.S. operations are based in Portland, Ore.
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