WAWARSING – The February 1 public hearing on a local law to opt-out of the Real Property Tax Law Section 487 Exemption, brought a visit and request from Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, an Ellenville native and former village mayor. "I think you should rescind the Opt Out local law."
Auerbach went on to say, "This law is sending a message that you’re against alternative energy. This puts an undue financial burden on homeowners who have solar systems."
The issue is not a trivial one.
Real Property Tax Law 487 reads, in part, that "real property that contains a solar energy … is exempt from taxation for a period of 15 years to the extent of any increase in assessed value due to the system. The exemption … is subject to local option."
The law also states that each municipality "may choose whether to disallow the exemption. The option must be exercised by counties, cities, towns, and villages through adoption of a local law, and by school districts by adoption of a resolution."
There are salient points to consider: first, the solar exemption is for the value that the system adds to the property and is NOT an exemption on the entire property.
Opting out is not conditional upon the scale of a project. A town that opts out makes all solar installations more expensive for home owners and small business, as well as for large solar farms.
Besides the solar exemption, there exists the chance for the town to negotiate Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreements for the large-scale energy developments. Also, the solar exemptions from property taxes are for 15 years.
Auerbach noted that the use of PILOT agreements could generate the income the town was seeking without penalizing homeowners and small businesses. He urged the board to take the time to read background information and the state law itself.
Auerbach’s intervention had an effect. Steve Bradley said the public hearing should be continued while the board studied the matter. T.J. Briggs added his voice to that, and so did Roger Buchwalter. Supervisor Terry Houck noted that the town sought to ensure that potential revenues were not being lost. Briggs said he was surprised a bit by this information, he hadn’t thought that adding solar to a roof would cause much of a difference to someone’s assessment. Houck and the others agreed to talk with the assessor, and take another look at the issue and return to it at the next meeting. The public hearing will continue.
Online Attacks Addressed
In other business, Bradley moved to raise the rate for the Kerhonkson water district by $7.50 a quarter. He noted that there had been no increase in decades and that all the costs associated with the water district had doubled or more in that time.
Bradley also thanked the highway department crews and the water & sewer department for prompt work in repairing a major leak in Kerhonkson during the cold weather in January. He added that drilling will take place on Franklin Brown’s property near Eastern Correctional to see what water might be found there. This might reduce the cost of bringing water into the Napanoch water district if there’s a good enough supply.
Buchwalter reported on his concern over social media attacks on Bradley’s appointment to fill Supervisor Houck’s vacated seat on the board. Buchwalter made the point that Bradley has several years of valuable experience on the various water and sewer issues in the town, and that major projects in that area are due for completion this year, so securing Bradley on the board for one final year will allow him to shepherd those projects to completion.
Supervisor Houck noted that several projects were to be undertaken at the airport this year. The runway was redone in 2016, this time the taxiing ways will be resurfaced. He mentioned use of an easement to take a road directly to the airport, thus avoiding the ShopRite plaza parking areas; this will require negotiations with ShopRite, or the purchase of the property.