Finding new sources of revenues is a constant challenge for rural communities. There's no exception to this in 2020, when Niagara County is being hit hard by COVID-19 and the loss of revenue from long-term revenue generators like the Somerset coal plant that recently closed. Additionally, the Hartland town councilmen know that Hartland is losing population and therefore tax revenue. In order to maintain services with a reduced budget, they have to entertain opportunities that are presented. This is already forcing difficult conversations about what services to maintain and what infrastructure to slash from local budgets, or how to increase taxes to fill the void.

The towns of Hartland and Newfane are being offered an opportunity to create $1 million in new revenues every year, by hosting the proposed Ridge View solar project. If the project is allowed to go ahead, more than $1 million in new revenues would be paid by Ridge View Solar that would be shared between the the towns of Hartland and Newfane, Niagara County and the Barker, Royalton Hartland and Newfane central school districts. Shares of the revenue would be appropriated based on the project footprint in each town or school district and continue for the life of the project, anticipated to be more than 30 years.

There are families here who have worked the land for generations, paid their taxes, and have dealt with the uncertainties of markets, prices and weather. According to the August 2019 report from the Office of the New York State Comptroller, the average age of the New York farmer is 57 years old, and only 42% of farmers listed farming as their sole occupation. One could interpret that to mean that the majority of farmers must supplement their income to keep their families and farms running. By allocating some of their farmland to this solar project, they will have a guaranteed income that will help them keep their farms, provide for their families and fund a retirement for themselves in addition to maintaining a stable tax base.

Ridge View Solar is being proposed on 2,000 acres of land. This amount of land would typically pay about $45 per acre in property taxes. So overall, the taxes and revenues would increase from $90,000 to $1 million, or 10 times more tax revenue generated from the land on which the project is sited. Ridge View solar might also be responsible for a share of special district taxes as well.

The entire community will thrive when we have secure revenues. Schools are better funded and more sought out by the public which in turn maintains, and in some cases increases, property values. Towns can maintain critical services and infrastructure that provide safety and security measures for the entire community.

This is an opportunity to help secure the economic future of the area and maintain a stable tax base.

HANNAH BUCHOLZ, Gasport

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