CHESTERTOWN — Members of the public voiced their opinions on a business personal property tax bill during the Kent County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.
The bill calls for the tax to be imposed on 50 percent of the assessment for equipment used to generate electricity “for sale.” The bill would only apply to utility-scale projects, not smaller solar arrays on residential and commercial buildings and farms.
Janet Christensen-Lewis, chairwoman of Kent Conservation & Preservation Alliance, said she supports the bill. She said Dorchester and Queen Anne’s counties also recently passed a bill for a tax like this.
“I think that it’s an appropriate thing to do given the lack of — particularly given what we’re seeing in the county in terms of solar development — employment that comes with that and that it is not particularly beneficial to our county,” Christensen-Lewis said.
She also supported the commissioners’ decision to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes — known as PILOT — program for those companies that will, as she put it, “come in and use the lands appropriately.”
“And for companies that perhaps do not wish to abide by our land use ordinances, then perhaps they won’t get that kind of negotiation,” Christensen-Lewis said.
There was some confusion about the proposed tax. KCPA member Pat Langenfelder, co-owner of Grand View Farm in Kennedyville, supported the bill, but asked that it be clarified so agriculture producers will not think they are going to be taxed for having solar arrays on their farms.
In a submitted letter, Washington College President Kurt Landgraf wrote that the college currently has an agreement with Sol Systems of Washington D.C., which is a co-partner for a utility-scale solar farm in Massey. The college plans to purchase power from the farm once it is finished.
“A tax levied on this project or a PILOT greater than that proposed will increase the contracted rate, jeopardizing the project,” Landgraf wrote. “We do not believe the intention of this tax is to discourage projects like these which are beneficial to the local community.”
President William Pickrum said the bill is not meant to “penalize” those who have a solar array for “personal purposes.” He said the tax will serve to protect the county’s best interests.
“We’re not opposed, as a ward, to utility-scale solar and wind generation, but the siting is very, very important,” Pickrum said. “There’s plenty of open land out there.”
Commissioner Ron Fithian said county staff will look over the bill in case further clarification is needed.
Pickrum said written comments on the bill will be accepted until noon Friday, Aug. 18. They can be submitted to the Kent County office or by email to email@example.com.
If approved, the bill will take effect the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Also at the meeting, the commissioners announced that a public hearing for a proposed zoning text amendment to the county’s land use ordinance will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16.
The amendment is to address manure storage facilities in agricultural and resources conservation zoning districts.
The commissioners voted to waive the permit fees for a planned shoreline restoration project along Swantown Creek.
Sassafras River Association Restoration Specialist Josh Thompson said the project is expected to break ground in the early fall. He said the project is being funded through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays trust fund. The project’s budget is about $1.2 million.
During the meeting’s public comments portion, resident Francoise Sullivan said she drafted a petition to have the commissioners maintain a video archive of their meetings.
Currently, there is only a live stream available for the public.
Sullivan said meeting minutes tend to be posted a week after a meeting took place.
“Juggling all my responsibilities makes it difficult to attend as many government meetings as I’d like,” Sullivan said. “Even watching a live stream from the comfort of home is not always possible.”
As of Wednesday, Sullivan had 89 signatures on the petition. Read by Sullivan, comments from those who signed the petition included “More access to meetings is always a good thing” and “Many constituents have jobs and are unable to attend meetings, so we need to be able to see democracy in action.”
“We’ll take it under consideration,” Pickrum said.
The commissioners approved applying for waterway improvement and infrastructure grants. The grants are through the DNR’s Chesapeake and Coastal Services and are for projects slated for the next fiscal year.
Filling in for County Administrator Shelley Heller, Chief Finance Officer Pat Merritt said the grants — requiring a 50 percent match from the county — are for the Quaker Neck public landing and Bayside Landing Park in Rock Hall. The county’s costs are $97,500 and about $626,000 respectively.
Taking a “moment of personal privilege,” Pickrum called the recent events in Charlottesville, Va. “deplorable.” He said it is not appropriate to “spew vile language and vile actions” against fellow U.S. citizens.
“This is a country of laws. Everyone doesn’t have to like each other, but you should be civil,” Pickrum said. “I hope the citizens and residents of Kent County reject those hateful views.”
Commissioner Bill Short did not attend the meeting.