Lincoln looking at drop in taxes thanks to wind project, manager says

Posted April 11, 2011, at 7:40 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Budget deliberations have only just begun, but Town Manager Lisa Goodwin is confident that funding from the Rollins Mountain industrial wind site will at least help keep the town’s tax rate stable, she said Monday.

Goodwin’s preliminary 2011-12 budget proposes a four-cent drop in the town’s tax rate, from $20.12 to $20.08, and with Lincoln school officials likely to submit a budget that calls for a 3.11 percent increase instead of the 4.2 percent increase originally expected, the final tax rate could be as low as $19.88, she said.

Given the steep decreases expected in state municipal and educational funding for municipalities, the tax reduction Goodwin expects would be “a nice drop.”

“We want to provide a stable mill rate so that we are able to maintain services and give people something that is easy to plan with. Everybody likes stability. When you seesaw, it’s not a good thing,” Goodwin said.

A $20.08 tax rate would mean that an owner of a property assessed at $100,000 — with no other tax exemptions — would pay $2,008 in taxes over the next year. With a $19.88 tax rate, the landowner would pay $1,988 in taxes.

The Town Council’s budget committee and the council must approve the budget before it can go into effect on July 1. Review hearings begin this month.

Under state law, funding derived from tax increment financing deals can be used for some operational expenses, Goodwin said. The $404,439 in TIF funds the town will receive from Rollins project owner First Wind can be used for equipment and supplementary purchases, she said.

About $200,000 of the TIF will pay for a new plow truck and $50,000 will pay for the paving of Fleming Street, which, Goodwin said, needs it badly. Without the TIF, money for those items would have had to be drawn from a loan or bond or from the town’s operating fund.

Construction on the $130 million Rollins site off Route 6 began in early September. The site’s 40 1½-megawatt turbines on Rollins ridgelines in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn aren’t due to go on line until early August, said Aaron Lindenbaum, a First Wind spokesman.

As of April 5, 34 turbines had been installed, Lindenbaum said.

The project’s state approval in August 2009 did not go uncontested. The Friends of Lincoln Lakes has said that First Wind carries huge debt and that its project will decimate land values, threaten residents’ health with its turbine sounds and vibration, and blight the ridges’ pastoral beauty.

They and other anti-wind advocates said it would not be built in Maine if not for the tax breaks First Wind gets and have dismissed the project’s economic benefits as temporary, with most wind projects generating no more than 30 percent of capacity.

Still, First Wind officials claim that during Rollins’ construction, First Wind has thus far spent more than $29 million with nearly 100 Maine businesses, and the project has created an average of 200 on-site construction jobs each working day.

The Friends group has lost its appeals of the project, and several anti-wind protesters were arrested at the site in November. When Rollins is operational, First Wind will have 185 megawatts of generating capacity in Maine, with three other projects in the state. Rollins is the first First Wind project with a contract to supply electricity to Maine residents through Maine utilities. The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a 20-year contract with First Wind in October 2009.

First Wind also owns the 4-year-old, 42-megawatt Mars Hill site, the first utility-scale wind project in Maine. It also operates the 57-megawatt Stetson Wind and the 26-megawatt Stetson Wind II projects, both in Washington County near Danforth.

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