by Thomas P. Caldwell
GROTON — Selectmen are continuing to look into the claim by Grafton County Commissioner Martha Richards that the Groton Wind Farm is boosting the town's county property tax assessment from $109,000 last year to $316,909 this year.
Selectmen have been largely silent on the claim, and the Grafton County Commissioners' Office has not confirmed Richards' figures, which she presented during the Sept. 30 meeting of the Alexandria Board of Selectmen. Alexandria was discussing the Spruce Ridge Project in which EDP Renewables hopes to build an array of wind turbines along ridges in Alexandria, Groton, Hebron, and Orange.
If Richards is correct, Groton will be picking up a much larger share of the county budget which, in turn, will lower the tax assessments for most other towns in Grafton County, many of which have gone on record as being opposed to the Groton Wind Farm.
At their Oct. 7 meeting, the Groton Board of Selectmen said they have been in touch with the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration, which sets the tax rate, and with legal experts looking into the effect of HB-1549 which was adopted July 28 and was effective upon passage. The new law, which Governor Maggie Hassan has signed, clarifies the assessment of renewable generation facility property that is subject to a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement.
"The DRA assessed the Groton Wind Farm as of May 1, assessing it at full market value," said Selectman Christina Goodwin. "The bill that took effect in July would change that process to take the PILOT agreement into consideration."
PILOT-affected facilities are to be taxed at their equalized value under the new law, having the effect of lowering the assessment.
As of Tuesday, the town did not know whether the new law would apply to this year's taxes. The wind farm assessment also could change as a result of Groton Wind's appeal of the May assessment. The DRA is just beginning the process of setting 2014 tax rates for the towns.
Selectman Kyle Andrews said, as it stands, the DRA has assessed the town at about $77 million and the wind farm at $126 million.
The county tax assessment will be based upon the town's net assessed valuation, and that is the number the selectmen are waiting to see. The town's net assessed valuation in 2013 was $77,378,166.
If Richards' numbers prove to be true, Groton's PILOT agreement will more than cover the increase in county taxes. The agreement calls for Groton Wind to pay the town $528,000 the first year, increasing by 2.5 percent each year thereafter. Selectmen, however, were reluctant to say that the town will come out ahead, not knowing the final numbers and how they would affect the other portions of the tax rate: local school and state education assessments.
Andrews did note that the town anticipated a higher assessment because of the wind farm, "but I'm not sure we expected it to be that much," he said.