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Fenner resolves lawsuit with windmill company, reassesses wind farm at $13 million less

The town of Fenner and Canastota Wind Power, LLC, have resolved their legal dispute over the assessment value of the company’s windmills in the town. Fenner town Supervisor Dave Jones characterized the settlement as a “win-win” since Fenner did not have to repay tax monies the company demanded back for 2017, while Canastota Wind Power got the assessment of its windmills lowered by $13 million.

The lower assessment will reduce the tax income to the town from the wind farm, which will have an impact on the 2019 town budget, Jones said. Exactly what size impact it will have has yet to be determined, with the town just beginning its annual budget process.

The issue between Fenner and Canastota Wind Power started last year, when the company’s 15-year PILOT program ended. The PILOT agreement called for Canastota Wind Power to make 15 Payments In Lieu Of Taxes to the town, after which the windmills would be placed on the town tax rolls. The company made 15 payments, so Jones put them on the tax rolls last year at an assessment of $25 million, which was in-line with the original agreement.

Canastota Wind Power challenged the assessment as being excessive, stating that it felt the assessment should be only $4 million. The company also argued that the windmills should not have been placed on the tax rolls in 2017 – but that the move should have occurred in 2018 – and wanted the town to either repay the $75,000 in taxes the company paid last year, or give it a one-year tax break to compensate. Jones refused, citing the original contract.

The two sides could not reach an agreement, so Canastota filed a lawsuit. Madison County and the Cazenovia Central School District were also involved in the dispute since both are impacted by the tax revenue of the windmills.

A state supreme court judge sided with the town in the lawsuit, but the company could still appeal to a higher court.

During the Fenner Town Board’s Sept. 12 regular monthly meeting, Jones announced that the town, county and school district recently had reached an agreement with Canastota Wind Power. He said the agreement was, in the end, a cheaper solution than continuing with a court battle.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding signed by all the parties, Canastota Wind Power accepted an assessment of $11 million on its wind farm in the town of Fenner and agreed to end its claim to the refund in 2017 taxes it previously demanded.

“We took quite a hit with the assessment but we didn’t have to give any money back,” Jones said. “It was a win-win for everybody.”

The reassessment of the windmills to $11 million from $25 million will reduce the town of Fenner’s total taxable assessed value by $13 million. This will definitely have an impact on the 2019 town budget and the town tax rate, although it is too early in the budget process to say exactly what that impact will be, Jones said.

The board held a budget work session on Sept. 13. It’s next regular monthly meeting will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, in the town office. At 8:05 p.m. that night there will be a public hearing on a proposed law to override the state tax levy limit cap.