Published Date Written by Barbara Tetreault
Last month, the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals upheld the Department of Revenue Administration's 2012 equalized valuations for the two unincorporated places. The commission had appealed the valuations, arguing they were too high in a debate centering on the appraisal of the Granite Reliable Power wind park. Most of the 33-turbine wind park is located in Millsfield and Dixville.
The commission, represented by Attorneys Jonathan Frizzell and Phil Waystack, argued that DRA official Scott Dickman placed the valuation of the wind park at $113 million in a Dec. 18, 2007 meeting with the commission. At the time, the county was in the process of negotiating a Payment-in-lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Granite Reliable Power before construction of the wind park got underway. The commissioners asserted the county used that value in negotiating the PILOT agreement in 2008. That agreement calls for GRP to make an annual PILOT of $495,000 for the wind park in Millsfield and Dixville.
The DRA last year, however, appraised the wind park for the first time and placed its value at $228 million. The county lost a request to compel the DRA to provide it with a copy of the appraisal because GRP would not authorize the disclosure.
In its ruling, the BTLA said the statutory responsibility for appraising the wind park for property tax purposes rests with the commission. It pointed out that at the December 2007 meeting, then county Administrator Sue Collins presented a worksheet estimating the value of the wind park at $150 million. The board said Dickman made a rough estimate of the valuation of the wind park but the county did not do any additional investigation or obtain an appraisal of its own. The ruling noted DRA employee Guy Petell cautioned the wind park would raise the county tax in the two unincorporated places.
The DRA valuations increase Millsfield's total equalized valuation from $6.4 million in 2011 to $180 million in 2012. Dixville's total equalized valuation increased from $16.7 million in 2011 to $54.4 million in 2012.
The commission had 20 days to appeal the BLTA decision to the state Supreme Court. Commissioners Rick Samson and Paul Grenier said the commission decided to file an appeal, apparently done by a telephone poll.
The increased valuations have generated an outcry in Millsfield, which has about two dozen residents. A petition signed by 15 of the residents was presented to the Coos County delegation at its meeting Monday. The petition complained that the residents were not consulted about the wind park before the commission voted to publicly support it nor were they involved in negotiations for the PILOT. The petition said residents are very concerned about the prospect of high property taxes.
County officials admitted Monday that they have not calculated the impact of the DRA valuations on the property tax rates in the two unincorporated places. Delegation Chair Robert Theberge said he believed tax rates in Millsfield and Dixville could increase to the $60 to $65 per thousand dollars of valuation range.
Most of the residents in the two unincorporated places currently pay no or little property taxes. In most of the unincorporated places, yield tax revenues cover the limited services provided.
County officials also could not provide figures on the impact of the higher valuations in Millsfield and Dixville on the county tax rate in other Coos County communities. Rep. Leon Rideout (R-Lancaster) said there would be a small decrease to the rest of the county.
Commissioner Rick Samson requested the delegation appoint a committee or commission to look at the handling of the wind park appraisal. Samson was not in office when the PILOT was negotiated. Samson complained that he presented Commissioners Tom Brady and Paul Grenier with a list of questions about the wind park and the PILOT two months ago and has not received any response. County Administrator Jennifer Fish said the questions were forwarded to Attorney Frizzell who has been on vacation the last two weeks. Theberge requested answers be provided to Samson by the commission's August 14 meeting.
Theberge revealed that he, Coos County Treasurer Fred King, Frizzell, Brady met with Gov. Maggie Hassan on July 17 to discuss the issue. As a result of the meeting, Theberge said he and state Senator Jeff Woodburn are working on legislation to address the valuation issue in the unincorporated places.
"It can only be resolved legislatively," he said.
Theberge promised the Millsfield residents there are sufficient funds to protect them from a large property tax increase this year. The county received $334,365 in land use change tax revenues last year from the wind park. There is also the $495,000 PILOT payment that will be divided with Millsfield getting $390,010 and Dixville the remaining $104,990.
He and Rideout said the delegation is working hard to find a long-term solution.
Paula Sweatt of Millsfield thanked the delegation for recognizing the issue and working to resolve it.
"Let's work together in moving forward," she said.