HOOSICK, N.Y. — The town of Hoosick board held a public hearing and moratorium vote on Feb. 22 regarding the commercial solar farm debate that was ignited in August as well as how to tax solar panel projects.
After hearing many thoughts and opinions from the community, the board decided to table Local Law No. 1, 2016 (previously Local Law No. 4, 2015), which decides whether or not the town would opt out of the state's Real Property Tax Law 487 or choose a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) program. The concern revolves around making revenue for the town via the solar developers with PILOT or separating residential and commercial installations with residential tax breaks.
"We need to focus this thing down; with the history of our community and the nature of our financial status, we need to be business-like in this regard," Councilman David Sutton said. "I think we're all feeling the need, regardless of lack of information from higher power, that we need to start moving down the road here. If I had that information, I'd be ready to move on now."
Board members were unsure about voting on the tax law after hearing from meeting attendees.
"My viewpoint is changing a little bit. There were some good arguments made tonight. Looking at the town as a whole, I think this is something that should be explored a little more and I'm just not comfortable," Supervisor Mark Surdam said. "I don't want to make a bad decision. I want to make sure we make a good decisions and if that means we miss some kind of a time date or something and we get it right, then that's fine. I'd rather do that then rush something through. This is a complex issue."
Directly after, the board voted against a solar moratorium or Local Law No. 2, 2016, which would halt any future products, and after clarification, would have postponed current projects depending on how the moratorium was worded.
Reasoning behind the opposition came down to the fact that the solar committee will present its findings in April and approving a six month moratorium would offset the committee's efforts and negate future projects.
The idea of the solar committee is to gather information about the pros and cons of solar energy including the environmental impacts and how it can benefit the town.
"What harm does it do to do a six month moratorium and give everybody time to get everything in order?" Surdam said. "There's no new projects that are in right now. It gives us the time, and on the other hand the zoning board has done a pretty good job so far. I've had no complaints with them, and they've worked hard."
Councilmen David Sutton and Eric Sheffer shared their disinterest and explained that no one wanted to shut the door on solar energy.
"I think we're making a statement to people [if a moratorium is passed] that they may or may not be able to do what they want with their land," Sutton said. "In an environment that is pro solar, and we're supposed to be pro solar."
"If a business wants to take advantage of something in the next six months and get it rolling, I guess I don't want to be the person who says no to solar for their business in our town that's struggling already," Sheffer said.
Councilperson Jenn Hyde expressed the need for a balance between acting on proposed projects and the rights the residents have doing what they want with private land.
Surdam raised a motion to send the moratorium to the county for review with three in opposition and Councilperson Jeff Wysocki abstaining due to his solar project proposal.
Sutton reminded members that a discussion will ensue if solar project applications begin to file into the town office. However, by not establishing tax guidelines, residents have no basis for potentially going through with a project.
The town of Hoosick board meets on every second Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at the New York State Armory, 80 Church St. in Hoosick Falls.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.