Mar. 19—FARMINGTON — Franklin County will repay the state $469,611.60 related to the state's tax abatement to Helix Maine Wind Development in the county's unorganized territory.
Of that amount, $187,844.64 is the county's share, which will come out of tax-increment financing funds, and Helix will repay the county $281,766.96 related to a credit enhancement agreement. The two amounts equal what's owed, which the county will submit to the state.
Commissioners decided Tuesday to repay the state. They also voted to send a letter to the county's legislative delegation asking them to remedy the lack of notification by the state alerting an entity, in this case the county, of a pending abatement application.
County Clerk Julie Magoon learned the company had filed one from a representative of Helix. Fortunately there is money in the tax-increment financing account to cover this but other smaller counties may not have that option, she said.
According to a letter sent to Helix Maine Wind Development on March 4 by the Maine Revenue Services Property Tax Division, the state reduced the valuation of the 44-turbine facility by $54.86 million. As a result, a refund of $469,611.60 is warranted for property in the townships of Wyman, Jim Pond, Kibby, Chain of Ponds and Skinner for tax year 2020, according to supervisor Lisa Whynot's letter to Helix. The refund to Helix is expected to be issued within four to six weeks.
TransCanada Maine Wind Development estimated in 2006 the wind farm would be a $250 million to $300 million project. The company sought approval from then-Maine Land Use Regulation Commission to have the area rezoned and for a preliminary development plan to construct the turbines on about 13.7 miles of ridge line on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range in Kibby Township and a small portion of Skinner Township, near the Canadian border. transmission lines, substation and roads were also involved.
The project was approved in 2008 and the turbines were installed in 2009 and 2010. When the company sought another state permit in 2010 to expand the project, the original wind energy facility was estimated to be a $320 million project. Only the 44-turbine, 132-megawatt facility is connected to the county's TIF.
The state recently did a revaluation of the unorganized territory. According to state abatement information, the wind energy facility was valued at $174.36 million for the properties listed in the abatement request for 2020 tax year, prior to the valuation being reduced.
Magoon's understanding is that an inappropriate depreciation method was used. There is newer equipment now than when when the facility was first built, she said.
The county entered into an Enterprise Tax-Increment Finance and Development Program in 2008, involving the unorganized territory, with then-owners of the facility, TransCanada Maine Wind Development. The agreement was transferred to Helix when L.S. Power finalized the purchase of the facility in 2017 through its affiliate Helix Generation from TransCanada Corp. There have been three approved amendments to the TIF since it was implemented.
The percent of increased assessed value from taxable real and personal property to be sheltered in the original district is 75% in years one through 10 and 50% in TIF years 11-20. The new percent of valuation to be captured in the amended district for the remaining TIF years eight through 30 is 100%.
The amendment also removed the $4 million revenue cap, which the county reached in 2016, on TIF revenues that the county could retain to be used on TIF economic development projects. Over the past seven years, the county has spent an average of $265,450.49 a year on economic development, according to county Finance Manager Vickie Braley. That amount reflects the two most recent amendments.
Those funds were used for a variety economic development projects, including trail improvements, education scholarships, administrative costs, public safety communication improvements and other needs, according to TIF funding documents.
As of Feb. 28, there was about $3 million left in the TIF funds, Braley said. After the county's payment to the state, there will be about $2.84 million, she said.
Typically the county receives about $1 million a year related to the TIF. Last year's payment was unusually high at $1.4 million because of the revaluation, Magoon said.
Property tax abatements in unorganized territory and municipalities are governed by state law 36 M.R.S. § 841, according to Kelsey Goldsmith, director of communications for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
If the taxpayer believes there has been any illegality, error or irregularity in the assessment of their property taxes, they can file a written application with the assessor within 185 days of the commitment of taxes pursuant to state law, Goldsmith wrote in email outlining the process. For purposes of Maine's unorganized territory, the assessor is the state tax assessor at Maine Revenue Services.
If the taxpayer disagrees with the decision of the assessor, they may appeal it to the municipal board of assessment review or, if the property is in the unorganized territory or the municipality has not set up a board of assessment review, to the county commissioners within 60 days pursuant to state law. In certain situations, such as if it is nonresidential property of $1 million or greater, the taxpayer may instead appeal to the state Board of Property Tax Review. Decisions of either the county commissioners or the state board may then be appealed to the Superior Court, according to Goldsmith.
There are a few of exceptions to this process, depending on the timing or substance of the appeal, but this is the essence of it.