New York State is one of 36 states with laws that encourage homeowners and businesses to invest in solar and other forms of clean energy. One law in particular provides an assurance to NYS homeowners and businesses that they will be exempt for 15 years from any property tax increase that could result from an increase in the assessed value of their properties stemming from those clean-energy investments.
The town board of Putnam Valley is now seeking to opt out of that tax exemption program. (Those who already have solar panels can rest easy; this would only apply to investments made after this resolution becomes law.) You can read their proposed resolution here. If the town board votes in favor of this resolution, Putnam Valley will be the only town in this area that isn't taking advantage of the state's property tax exemption program. This would put businesses and home owners here at a competitive disadvantages to those living and working in places like Cold Spring, Beacon, Mahopac, and Carmel, as well as all the towns in Westchester.
Why is the town board seeking to pass this resolution? Several reasons have been given:
- This resolution was apparently approved by several previous town boards, but it wasn't properly recorded with the state, so this is merely the board's attempt to clean up the record. [Editor's note: Just because a bad policy was approved by a previous board doesn't make it a good idea. In fact, it's fortuitous, because it gives us an opportunity to make a better decision now.]
- They say their goal isn't to increase the assessed value of homeowners' properties, but to make sure that they can collect property tax revenue from businesses, such as solar farms, that might come to town. [Editor's note: First, solar farms aren't exactly storming our town - the land here is very expensive and we protect our forested areas with good laws on the books. However, if a solar farm did choose to come here (and for the record, I hope some do because that would increase the resilience of our electric grid), the state law provides an alternative approach for towns that want to collect tax revenues from businesses like that. It's called a PILOT, which stands for payment-in-lieu-of-taxes. The nearby town of Southeast has used that approach, however Supervisor Annabi says she doesn't thinks PILOTs are a good idea.]
You can hear a variety of perspectives on this issue by watching the public hearing that took place on January 25th at Town Hall. Here is a link to the video recording. The portion of the meeting focused on this topic begins at the 1.52 minute mark, and lasts about 18 minutes.
You still have an opportunity to weigh in on this topic if you'd like. The public hearing period remains open until 4pm on February 15th. Your comments should be addressed to Supervisor Jacqueline Annabi and the Putnam Valley Town Board. Here are their emails:
Jacqueline Annabi - email@example.com
Ralph Smith – firstname.lastname@example.org
Louie Luongo – email@example.com
Christian Russo – firstname.lastname@example.org
Stacey Tompkins – email@example.com
It's worth considering the competitive landscape in which our town exists. If Putnam Valley develops a reputation as a town that opposes forward-looking environmental policy, that could hurt property values, especially given the importance the next generation places on this issue. If this passes, the result could easily be less tax revenue for the town over time.
It would also be a set-back to any ambition the town has to gain access to the millions of dollars of grants that NY State and the federal government have allocated to communities that embrace moves to renewable energy.
New York is trying to be one of the nation’s leaders in energy policy. It aims to get 70 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030.
This is not idle chatter. The state is putting its money where its mouth is. At least $100 million from the $4.2 billion environmental bond act approved by NY voters in November will be distributed to towns and municipalities that join in the effort to meet these targets. These communities are first in line for state grants for electric-vehicle chargers, streetscape improvements, wastewater upgrades and food waste collection programs.
And New York is not some wild and crazy left-wing state. Thirty-six other states offer exemptions for renewable energy projects. The tax code has long been used as a mechanism for encouraging behavior that benefits the public good. It is widely recognized that property tax exemptions result in a significant boost to solar deployment.
Our neighboring towns certainly understand the importance of embracing climate-friendly policies. According to reporting by the Highlands Current, in Beacon, grants have helped pay for electric vehicle chargers in three locations, and more are coming. The town’s new central firehouse will have at least one electric vehicle charger and is being designed to be powered by geothermal heating and — if future grants come through — solar panels. Philipstown just got money to install its EV charger. Other grants have been used to create a food-scrap recycling program and a fund to help residents pay for green HVAC upgrades
The Putnam Valley town board is likely to vote on this resolution two hours after the public comment period ends, ie., at its next meeting on Feb. 15th at 6pm. You can attend the meeting in person at 265 Oscawana Lake Rd., and the town also provides a livestream and a video recording: here is a link with more info on how to access those.