County Denies Solar Developer’s Tax Abatement Request

SNOW HILL – County officials voted to deny a request for a tax abatement from a solar company, citing the fact that the project wouldn’t bring many jobs to the area.

The Worcester County Commissioners agreed not to grant the tax abatement request presented by Byron Crawford of Longview Solar. Crawford had been seeking an 80-percent personal property tax abatement from the county.

“As much as I value solar energy, I don’t feel this is the right fit for our county,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.

Crawford first approached the commissioners in June to ask for a tax break from the county. He said Longview Solar had two facilities planned, one in Berlin on Libertytown Road and another in Snow Hill on Public Landing Road. According to Crawford, the property owners who are willing to lease the company their land will use the proceeds of those leases to supplement their farming incomes.

Crawford said the construction of the solar arrays would involve 40-60 temporary jobs. In presenting his case for the tax abatement, Crawford said the properties that were selected currently generated $3,000 in real property taxes for the county. If they were used for solar, he said they’d generate $40,000 in real property taxes. He said Longview Solar was seeking an 80-percent tax abatement of the personal property taxes associated with the projects because otherwise the company would be paying more in taxes than it would in leases for the project. With no abatement, personal property tax for the projects would amount to $654,733 the first year. An 80-percent abatement would drop that to $130,947.

Last month, the commissioners opted to table a decision while county staff researched the issue further. On Tuesday, Finance Officer Phil Thompson told the commissioners that his department had found that financial incentive agreements the county had made in the past had typically occurred when jobs were being added to the local economy.

In 2009, the commissioners entered into a $25,000 loan agreement with Bel-Art Products based on the creation of 25 jobs. In 2006, the commissioners secured a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to aid in Hardwire’s redevelopment of the former Campbell Soup manufacturing facility.

“In stark contrast to these projects, the request by Longview Solar includes an annual abatement amount ($523,787 in year one with a total of $8,434,770 over 30 years) as compared to the $25,000 loan and $450,000 CDBG funds provided to these other projects,” Thompson wrote. “In addition, the number of jobs created by Longview is substantially less when compared to the 25 good paying full-time jobs created by Bel-Art and Hardwire over the long term at a fraction of the cost to the county.”

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said that while he didn’t think Longview Solar’s project merited an abatement, he believed the county would have to develop a tax abatement program in the future to compete with neighboring jurisdictions.

“This is not a project that increases jobs,” Mitrecic said. “I’m fully for a tax abatement program for a company that’s going to provide jobs.”

Commissioner Ted Elder also said he thought the county should develop a tax abatement program for future projects. He also spoke in favor of solar energy and said that he would have supported a small tax abatement for Crawford’s project.

Nevertheless, the commissioners voted 5-0 (with Commissioner Bud Church recused and Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw absent) to deny the abatement request.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.