By Jason Emerson
Residents in the town of Fenner may see a nearly one dollar increase in their tax rate this year, according to the town’s preliminary budget, which was released last week.
The $1.1 million budget includes $490,000 to be raised by taxes and a town tax rate of $3.87 per every $1,000 of assessed value — an increase of 80 cents from last year’s tax rate, or 26 percent.
“I don’t think any of us [on the town board] is happy,” said Supervisor Dave Jones. “We did the best we can do; it’s still not final yet.”
The large increase in the tax rate is due to many factors, Jones said, including increases in employee benefits, fire and ambulance protection costs, and the need to purchase a new truck for the highway department.
One major reason, however, is the Fenner Wind Farm. Canastota Wind Power, LLC, the company that owns the windmills, has sued the town over its assessment, so the town’s 2018 budget includes money for legal costs.
The wind farm was assessed this year at $25 million — which brings in $78,000 in tax revenue to the town — but Canastota Wind Power has challenged that figure, and feels the assessment should be only $4 million — which would be only $12,000 in taxes.
No matter the result of the company’s lawsuit, there will undoubtedly be an appeal to a higher court from one side or the other, Jones said.
Also at issue with Canastota Wind Power is the fact that their windmills were placed on the town tax rolls last year at the conclusion of their tax-free PILOT program. According to Jones, the PILOT agreement called for Canastota Wind Power to make 15 Payments In Lieu Of Taxes to the town, after which the windmills would be placed on the town tax rolls. The company made 15 payments, so Jones put them on the tax rolls last year.
The company argues they should not have been placed on the rolls, and want the town to either repay the $75,000 in taxes they paid last year, or give them a one-year tax break to compensate. Jones has refused, citing the agreement.
While the issue of last year’s wind farm taxes has been set aside while the assessment is challenged in court, it is still an issue.
“It’s been a good relationship between the town and the windmills, I guess I don’t understand where they’re coming from,” Jones said.
Some good news about the budget, Jones said, was that Fenner received a little more than $25,000 from the county as its share of casino host revenue paid by the Oneida Indian Nation for the Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango. That infusion of money helped lower the proposed tax rate by 12 cents per $1,000, he said.
A public hearing on the town’s preliminary budget is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the town office.
The public may view the preliminary budget at the town office during regular business hours or on the town’s website at townoffenner.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.