Town Board Drags Mendon Into the Past – by Tim Pryor

TOWN BOARD DRAGS MENDON INTO THE PAST

  • by Tim Pryor, Chair of the Mendon Democratic Committee

Recent Mendon Board legislation is part of a state-wide effort to thwart clean energy

The Mendon Town Board recently took action to brand our town as a community that clings to the past and shuns the future.  I refer here to the recent Board action that exempts the town from Section 487 of the Tax Law, which encourages residents to install alternative energy systems such as solar, wind or methane recycling (usually from animal waste).

Section 487 exempts homeowners and others who install alternative energy systems from an increase in their tax assessment based on the added value of the installation.  Since 1991, New York has provided this real estate tax exemption,  along with additional income tax incentives, to encourage investment in alternative energy systems.

In recent years, these incentives have been under increasing  attack by  coal, oil and gas interests which have begun to resent the competition from clean energy.   The Mendon Town Board’s legislation, which eliminates the exemption,  is part of a state-wide effort to thwart clean energy promoted by the Koch family and other Big Energy interests.

Section 487 also allows towns to opt out of the exemption,  and thus tax alternative energy installations.  This is what the Board just did.  The Town Board (which came up with this notion when some if its members attended a seminar paid for with tax money) claims that the tax incentive is unfair to citizens who do not have alternative energy systems.  I have yet to understand how the tax incentive in unfair, as any citizen can take advantage of it, no one is penalized for not taking advantage of it, and the Board has not offered any factual support for its claim.

The Board’s attorney says the new law will affect only large installations, not individual home installations, because the town has not historically seen the addition of a solar system as a valuable addition to property.  However, NY-Sun, a project of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), asserts that “Jurisdictions cannot choose to tax large systems but not small ones.”

For my part, I cannot see how the Town of Mendon will benefit from the new law.  It does not affect existing systems, which are grandfathered by the state law.  By its own admission, the Town will not increase the assessment of any new system attached to a private home.  The Town is also not likely to gain from assessing any new solar farm or similar installations, because the Board’s action will   discourage the establishment of alternative energy systems in Mendon.  “Some local governments are opting out of RPTL § 487 so they can tax these multimillion-dollar projects and generate additional property tax revenue. However, these jurisdictions may find that they will not actually collect … more tax revenue from solar or other renewable energy systems because the systems may not be built if they are fully taxable, ”  NY SUN explained.

There are clearly some negatives associated with the Town Board’s decision.  First,  Section 487 allows towns to negotiate Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements with parties installing alternative energy systems.  PILOT projects are a popular and workable way for towns to gain some income from otherwise tax exempt projects.  Passing this law has eliminated that option.

Second, by threatening increased taxes on farm-based methane generation systems, Mendon discourages the installation of waste management systems which reduce water pollution and turn waste into energy that can be used on site and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Finally, and perhaps most important,  the town is sending a message to the rest of the world that Mendon is comfortable living in the past and has no interest in promoting a sustainable future.

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