NORTH SMITHFIELD – A plan to purchase open space and fund projects for seniors using revenue from the newly-completed Green Development solar farm off Iron Mine Hill Road has fizzled in North Smithfield, at least for now.
Town Council President John Beauregard pitched the plan to create a separate revenue account to purchase open space and fund senior-related initiatives with income from the solar farm. Beauregard said during a meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 5, he expects the farm to generate $271,950 for the town on an annual basis.
“$271,000 on a $47 million annual budget is nothing. But that kind of money directed into a fixed account earmarked for something very specific can do a lot of good,” he said. “You throw it in the general fund, it’s going to be pennies off someone’s tax bill.”
The plan had the support of Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski, but last week, Beauregard learned the measure would need more than goodwill to pass. Several of his fellow councilors, including Councilors Paul Vadenais and Kim Alves, explained during the meeting that the move would be in violation of the state’s solar policies – because, as Vadenais explained, a majority of the income is actually a tax required by state law to be mixed in with the town’s general revenue.
“We can take it and put it into an account, but it needs to fall under the tax levy first,” he said.
When Green Development pitched the project to town leaders in 2018, they offered $7,000 per megawatt per year, a figure that accounts for the $271,950. According to Vadenais and Alves, the first $5,000 of that is required by the state as a tax, and therefore must feature into the town’s general budget. The remaining $2,000, they said, has more flexibility.
According to Alves, revenue from the solar farm would first have to go through the Budget Committee as part of the town’s annual budget process. She cautioned Beauregard against setting aside any funds prior to that process, pointing out the income could vary from year to year.
“We have to make sure we have the money in our budget before we start putting money aside for this. We can’t say every year we’re going to have that exact amount hitting the capital line, because we may not have that,” she said.
Beauregard expressed frustration with the turn of events, questioning how other towns have been able to dedicate capital funds from their large projects. According to Vadenais, both Burrillville and Lincoln have PILOT agreements with their large revenue-generating projects, a different mechanism than what’s in place for the Green Development solar farm.
“They’re payment-in-lieu-of-taxes. That’s how Burrillville takes the money from the power plant and does capital projects. That’s how Lincoln does it with the casino,” he said.
“In our case, this money falls in the tax levy other than the ($2,000),” he added.
Several individuals spoke in favor of the open space account last Wednesday, including North Smithfield Heritage Association President Richard Keene and North Smithfield Land Trust Treasurer Carol Ayala. Beauregard said he and Zwolenski initially had the intention to dedicate the Green Development solar revenue toward open space when the town still had an option of purchasing the Gold property off Mattity Road.
Town Finance Director Cynthia DeJesus pointed out the town still has $2.4 million to spend in an open space bond approved by voters in 2006.
For now, however, the separate revenue account seems to be off the table. Councilors did not take any action on the measure last week.
“So much for that, I guess,” Beauregard said.