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The Clarksburg Select Board voted to bill two industrial solar arrays for personal property taxes with the understanding it might be appealed.

Clarksburg Officials Want Solar Arrays to Pay Taxes

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The town is moving to assess personal property taxes on two industrial solar arrays — but is girding for rejection at the state level. 
 
Town officials estimate that taxing the two ground-mounted arrays could bring in upwards of $27,000 but a ruling by the Appellate Tax Board has found in favor of industrial solar arrays because of a state law exempting solar facilities. Several other towns also have appeals before the board.
 
"There was some precedent-setting decisions by the Appellate Tax Board, which the Department of Revenue did fight, but the ATB did what they wanted," explained Town Administrator Carl McKinney at Wednesday's Select Board meeting. The industrial solar industry, he said, "is taking a very liberal view that they are tax-free and don't have to pay."
 
The state law (clause 45) allows tax exemption for solar or wind devices for up to 20 years if they are providing power to the property being taxed. 
 
A third industrial array has entered into an agreement with the town for payment in lieu of taxes but efforts with the other two have come to naught and officials say they have had difficulty contacting the owners or getting information. 
 
"They're jerking us around and quite honestly, they're making money on the facilities and they should pay their fair share," McKinney said. 
 
Town Assessor Ross Vivori said he has tried to get the arrays' Schedule Zs — a document detailing the power generated and where it goes — and finally had to go through National Grid, which distributes the power. One of the arrays, at 650 West Cross Road, he noted, was supplying power to the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, which doesn't pay property taxes. 
 
Vivori said the Massachusetts Association of Assessing Officers has been lobbying the Legislature to update the law, which was focused on personal solar use. Several bills have been languishing in committee and he recommended the town press its legislators. State Rep. John Barrett III has filed a bill with a Worcester lawmaker. 
 
"The law hasn't caught up with the solar industry and that language was so broadly written that they've all been allowed by law to be exempt," he said. "I don't think any of us have a problem with people [having solar] on their homes being exempt. It's these large ground-mounted arrays, we believe they should be taxed." 
 
Vivori, also the assessor for the city of North Adams, said the city has run into some resistance as well but is in a pilot agreement with the largest array that was built on the capped landfill — a location that put city officials in a firm negotiating position.
 
"You can't force these guys into pilot agreements," he said. 
 
Select Board member Karin Robert, however, suggested the town do exactly that. 
 
"Before we allow any solar arrays in, they can't get approved unless there's a PILOT stipulated," she said. 
 
McKinney said he would pass that by the town's legal counsel to see if it could be codified. But at this point, the town could impose the tax and see what would follow. 
 
The town should be prepared for a request for abatement and, if rejected, an appeal to the Appellate Tax Board, Vivori said. 
 
"We'd have to put that amount of money in the overlay [account used for abatements] in anticipation that if it goes to ATB, we're going to lose," he said.
 
The account currently has $35,000 to $40,000 in it but there are about a half-dozen abatements filed, including an appeal on property taxes by the solar array on the former golf course on River Road.
 
Chairman Ronald Boucher and Robert voted to apply the personal property tax on industrial solar arrays that are not in a PILOT program with the town. 
 
The board also thanked Jason Morin for his work in getting up the town's new website www.clarksburgma.us, although Boucher was frustrated that not all the information had been provided for Morin. 
 
"We did something great by putting together a website but it's incomplete," he said. "We need to make sure when we do things in this town that they're 100 percent right. There's an image I want to portray that things are done and they're done correctly."
 
Morin said he was still uploading content to the site; by Friday, much of what Boucher felt was missing, including contact information and permit forms, had been uploaded. 
 
 
In other business, the board appointed members to revive the town's handicapped commission, now the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) Commission. 
 
Michelle Shulse, Jerry Byers, Eric Rougeau and James Howe are the first appointees. The board thanked them for stepping forward and McKinney said the reformation of the commission will be important in reviewing the town's needs to become compliant with the federal act and in developing grant applications to bring the town into compliance. The commission will hold its organizational meeting on March 20 at 6 p.m.
 
• The board also noted there is a vacancy on the Historical Commission; anyone interested should contact the town administrator's office. 
 
• Debra LaFave asked why the town's bylaw required her to step down from the Conservation Commission to be appointed to the Finance Committee. The board believed it was because both positions received stipends, and no one could hold more than one stipended post. 
 
"I'm putting together a committee to look at these bylaws and to revise some of them," Boucher said. "Some of them have taken and handcuffed this town in certain situations."
 
Robert said often people who volunteer for boards are willing to sit on more than one. "We're having a hard time filling positions," she said. 
 
LaFave said she'd be willing to give up the stipend to stay on the commission. She also felt that she had been discriminated against because it took three years to get on the often vacant Finance Committee. She said she had been told that McKinney had held up the appointment. McKinney said it was not true. Boucher said he would look into it. 
 
McKinney reported that the town is now under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, rather than the labor board, so updated material sheets will be used and training set up with all town employees by April. 
 
Town Hall's fire alarm panel will have to be repaired or replaced at a cost of $300 to $400. The funds will come from the Town Hall Repair account, which currently has about $4,000.  
 
• The board postponed to the next meeting an amendment by Verizon Wireless to shift by a few feet its planned cell tower on River Road to accommodate an installed driveway. Boucher asked that property owner attend the next meeting. 
 
• The board also postponed a review of the town administrator. 

Tags: solar array,   state laws,   tax exemption,   taxes,   

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Clarksburg Property Owners Will Feel Impact of Debt Exclusion

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Homeowners will see their property tax rise an average of $350 in fiscal 2020.
 
The Select Board on Wednesday approved a single tax rate of $17.89 per $1,000 valuation, up nearly $2 over last year's rate of $15.99.
 
The 11 percent jump in the tax rate is largely because of the $1 million borrowing approved at town meeting in May. The borrowing to address a number of capital projects is excluded from Proposition 2 1/2 but the tax impact will only last five years.
 
Assessor Ross Vivori has calculated that the average tax bill will rise $354.53 based on a comparison of last year's and this year's tax rate and house values. The value of the average single-family home increased slightly from $166,606.54 to $168,635.94, a difference of about $2,000. 
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