SOMERSET — The town board adopted a local law this week that empowers the town to tax certain energy developments.

The local law has the town opting out of New York State Real Property Tax Law Section 487, which conveys automatic property tax exemption for 15 years on property containing a wind, solar or farm waste energy project approved by the state. 

A pre-adoption public hearing on the local law drew a good-size crowd of residents from Somerset, Appleton and Yates, many voicing support for the opt-out.

"This should put the town in a stronger position if a PILOT agreement is proposed relative to the Lighthouse Wind project,” said Pam Atwater of Barker, president of Save Ontario Shores. “Because of Article Ten, our town is not left with a lot of options to protect property owners. Why in the world would we want to entertain a property tax exemption that would potentially benefit Apex?”

Resident Richard Ray suggested it would be inappropriate for the town to give tax relief to a development that is not supported in the community.

Others think Apex Clean Energy should pay its fair share of taxes if it sets up shop in the town.

“We have to pay taxes and therefore they should be paying taxes,” Cathi Orr said. “This is a bad idea that we should let them do a PILOT program... . Let's opt out and make them pay their fair share like we do.”

“Apex has often stated that it would negotiate a PILOT deal. Our town, school and county have a decidedly mixed experience with PILOTs, as have many across the state,” resident Randy Atwater said. “We know that our community does not want this project, but if we lose the battle and the project proceeds, I'd prefer the project be taxed on the full value of the installation.”

The opt-out law was adopted by the Barker Central School District in May and by the Lyndonville Central School District and the Town of Yates as well.

It's a "neutral and protective" decision by the towns and school districts affected by Apex's proposed energy development, Yates town Supervisor Jim Simon said.

"It's neutral in that you have not declared that you will not negotiate a PILOT, all you've done was strengthen your town board position, as Yates has, to negotiate a PILOT should that come to pass," he said. "If it doesn't and negotiations do not go well, you give yourself the option you currently do not have, which is real property tax for the cost of the project."

Somerset Councilman Randall Wayner observed that in some cases tax exemption for one property owner, while causing a shift of tax burden to other property owners, produces an overall benefit for the community. He doesn't see a blanket exemption for energy developments creating a net gain for Somerset, though.

"The vast majority of Somerset taxpayers will not benefit in any way from this exemption and (will) only experience the negative side of the narrow revenue stream," he said.

The opt-out law was adopted by a 4-0 vote. Councilman Gary Alt abstained; since his mother has a land lease with Apex, he's not casting votes on any town matters involving Apex and Lighthouse Wind. The law will take effect after it is filed with the New York Secretary of State.

Engert said previously that he hopes to persuade the Niagara County Legislature to adopt a law opting the county out of Real Property Tax Law 487 as well.

Contact reporter Rachel Fuerschbach at 439-9222, ext. 6246.

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