Solar law tabled — again — in Westerlo after warning of tax exemption

Wall of honor, Westerlo, military

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Wall of honor: Veterans both living and dead are presented in photos at the Westerlo Town Hall. Dennis and Sue Fancher, of the town's historical society, are requesting photos of Westerlo residents who served in the military.

WESTERLO — Last Tuesday, the Westerlo Town Board again tabled a bill that would establish regulations on both residential and commercial solar arrays. The board cited the need to review a tax exemption for solar energy production that could be beneficial for residents but could take away revenue from the town for taxing commercial arrays.

The exemption, listed under Real Property Tax Law 487, states that property containing a solar, wind, or farm-waste energy system is exempt from taxation for up to 15 years to the extent of any increase in assessed value from such a system. This exemption is automatically in effect unless a municipality chooses to opt out. If a municipality does opt out, it can still collect revenue if it sets up a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement, or a PILOT.

Peter Hotaling, the town assessor, who did not attend the meeting, recommended in a memorandum to hold off on voting on the bill because of the tax provision. He recommended a provision in the town bill for landowners to be notified that the town is possibly seeking a 15-year PILOT agreement; if not, an exemption will be presented.

“In the solar farms, there is income generated and sold back to the grid,” said the memo, which was read out loud by Councilwoman Amie Burnside. “There are tax dollars to be gained,” the letter later said.

“Essentially, what it’s suggesting is you collect a fee instead of taxes,” said Councilman William Bichteman. “Otherwise, the law is pretty much set to go, except for this,” he later added.

The fee would be based on the size of the systems and how many kilowatts are produced.

The board decided to hold a special town board meeting before the regularly scheduled workshop meeting on March 21 at 7 p.m. At the request of someone in the gallery, the board agreed to schedule another public hearing concerning the bill at 6:30 p.m.

Programs for veterans

The meeting included a presentation from a member of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, to inform local veterans of benefits, Bichteman told The Enterprise.

Following the meeting, town historian Dennis Fancher and his wife, Susan, a member of the town’s historical society, presented the Wall of Veterans, which they have been compiling. The “wall” consists of boards bearing photos and names of Westerlo residents — past and present — who served in the military. The photos go as far back as the Civil War and up to those serving in recent conflicts in the Middle East. It was noted that not all are combat veterans; some served as nurses, code-breakers, or loaded vehicles. Dennis Fancher said he is also compiling the names of Revolutionary and Civil War veterans.

Rally for broadband

Dorothy Verch, chairwoman of the town’s Broadband Committee, encouraged residents to send her information should they want internet access in their homes. The committee is looking to identify areas where Mid-Hudson Cable could expand internet coverage.

Verch explained to The Enterprise later that broadband access increases property value and can give residents the opportunity to start their own business (Verch runs her own LED lighting design business from her home).

She said the committee hopes are that enough information can be gathered to be presented at the April town board meeting, and that Mid-Hudson Cable can be approached in May. She noted that plans for the county to expand internet to the Hilltowns would likely not reach Westerlo, as internet and cable companies besides Mid-Hudson Cable have not expressed interest in the area.

Verch, also the planning board chairwoman, went over approved and denied applications. The application for Tarpon Towers’ 120 to 140 foot cell tower, on Route 405, was moved to March 28 and its balloon test was denied by the zoning board, with its firm looking into a machine from JLG Industries — a company that specializes in mechanical lifts — to test visibility instead.

The visibility test will occur on Monday, March 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Verch told The Enterprise. The lift being used will stretch to 120 feet in height.

“People will be able to get the feeling of what the tower will look like in that area,” said Verch.

The Beller solar farm application was accepted, with a public hearing scheduled at the April 25 meeting. Verch told The Enterprise that the mountain property owned by Jeff Beller includes a number of homes that he would like to power with a solar farm — provided through Viking Solar of Schoharie — placed in a horse pasture.

“You won’t be able to see it,” she said, of the solar farm.

Both Hudson Solar for Eastern Mutual Insurance, on Route 32, and Kaaterskill Associates’ proposed subdivision on  were accepted, with public hearings scheduled for March 28. Verch said Hudson Solar will be putting up solar panels on the left side of Eastern Mutual’s building, with the intention being to power just the offices. The subdivision is being requested by Frank Villa to divide his property into three lots to give to two to his children, said Verch.

World Lymphedema Day

The town board voted to designate March 6 World Lymphedema Day, responding to a letter from Tiffany (née Sherwin) Detlefsen. Her daughter, Emma, a third-grader at Berne-Knox-Westerlo Elementary School, has lobbied to fund research on the disease, with which she was born and remains afflicted. She has pushed to pass the Lymphedema Treatment Act, and has a team called Emma’s Incredibles. World Lymphedema Day is part of a movement she has participated in to recognize the disease.

Lymphedema refers to swelling, generally in the arms and legs. It is generally caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes, leading to a buildup of lymph fluid. It is incurable, but treatable.

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