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County invoicing $373K in recoupment for land taken out of CAUV due to solar development

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article
Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Highland County Auditor Alex Butler shared an update on CAUV recoupment for nearly 4,500 acres of land now devoted to solar development during the Wednesday, Jan. 24 Highland County commission meeting.

According to the Highland County Auditor’s website, “The Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program provides a substantial reduction in the valuation of land that is exclusively dedicated to agricultural purposes. Land that is removed from the CAUV program is charged a recoupment charge equal the savings for three years that resulted from participation in the CAUV valuation versus valuation outside of the program.”

Butler told Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton that property owners were notified of the “recouping” before being invoiced, as property tax bills are currently in the process of being mailed throughout the county.

The amount of land involved totaled 4,487 acres, with a total amount billed of $373,578 in recoupment,  according to the county auditor.

Highland County Auditor Alex Butler

“We have a number of parcels that have been in the CAUV program for a number of years used for farming, but now are part of the many solar projects that are under development in the county,” Butler said. “If a parcel is not used for the various purposes that qualify for CAUV. It is to be taken out of the program and the last three years of savings recouped, so we have done that and billed those property owners.”

As has been reported over the past few years, there are a number of solar projects in various stages of development throughout Highland County and neighboring areas. Those include:

• Dodson Creek Solar in Dodson, Hamer and Union townships, a 117-megawatt, 1,462-acre development;

• New Market Solar in Clay and Whiteoak Townships, which include both a 65-MW, 582-acre development and a 35-MW, 222-acre development;

• Palomino Solar in Dodson and Union Townships, a 200-MW, 2,700-acre development;

• Willowbrook Solar in Concord and Whiteoak Townships (as well as a portion of Brown County), a 150-MW, 2,200-acre development; and

• Fayette Solar, a 47.5-MW, 450-acre development primarily in Fayette County, but also affecting Madison Township in Highland County.

Butler noted that the recoupment invoices have been issued for “the projects that are under construction at this point.” Daniels asked if the parcels will now “be taxed under the public utilities tax law.”

“They're still agricultural at this time,” Butler said. “They're just not receiving the CAUV, because we do anticipate them to be complete soon, within the foreseeable future. At this point in time, we're just removing them from the CAUV program.”

Butler said the state has not indicated that the county “would be receiving a PILOT payment anytime soon” for any of the solar projects.

As previously reported, commissioners voted to issue the first payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT)  invoice for the New Market Solar project March 22, 2023. The first half-year payment of $450,000 was due April 20, 2023, according to the invoice.

In June, Daniels said they still haven’t “heard anything back” from the developers, but they were working with the Ohio Power Siting Board and the Ohio Department of Development to seek further information. Due to delays with getting the solar panels, the project is only “30-percent complete,” he said, “and until they actually end up being complete, then they are responsible to pay the public utilities tax on those parcels.”

In October, Butler had reported that “my understanding is that we will be able to collect when the state issues a certificate of verification.

“That has not been issued yet, and therefore we are unable to collect,” Butler told commissioners in October. “As soon as we receive word from the state, that is when we will be able to initiate collections.”

Also briefly reviewed were the county’s permissive sales tax receipts, with Butler sharing the first report of 2024. The January 2024 total is a new record for the month of January, with $806,947.03 in tax receipts collected, up from last year’s $743,584.44. 

According to Butler, that total is a nine-percent increase from “where we were last year, so we’re starting the year off strong with that.”

In December, after announcing a fourth straight year of annual record tax receipt totals, Butler cautioned that this may not be the case this year, as he said “the county is “starting to see a plateau.” Along with sharing the monthly totals, he said that he plans to include percentages showing the difference from the previous year-to-date totals and monthly totals for additional perspective in 2024.

In other discussion:

• Commissioners approved a quote for shutoff valves at the Rocky Fork Lake sewer system, after reviewing four estimates at their Jan. 17 meeting.

Roades said he reviewed all of the submissions and recommended accepting the quote from Unger Construction, for $680 per unit. The company  also completed the Rainsboro sanitary sewer project for the county last year.

“When we come up with someone who hasn't paid their bill and does not have a shutoff, that would be for us to go in and install a shutoff on their line,” Daniels said last week.

• Commissioners also voted 3-0 to execute a proposal in a letter of transmittal from Clemans, Nelson & Associations, whom the county retains for union negotiations and personnel matters. Daniels said that under this proposal, the law firm will “work on the county's policy and procedure manual,” at a cost “not to exceed $10,000.

“Our manual is out of date,” Daniels said. “We've got two different versions, so they're going to work on merging those two and coming up with a document that is timely and up to date.”

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a contract with Hillsboro Business Complex LLC for rental space for the Highland County Economic Development Office for February 2024 to Jan. 31, 2025.

“We're renting space at the Scott House right now,” Daniels said. “The Economic Development offices moving uptown into the building right over here on High Street.”

Britton added that the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau will be moving into the same office. 

• Commissioners agreed to enter a IV-D contract with attorney Adam J. King, who will continue as an administrative hearing officer for the Child Support Enforcement Agency.

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a standard annual agreement with the City of Hillsboro for indigent defense for the 2024 calendar year.

• After their regular meeting, commissioners were scheduled to hold a work session with records manager Julie Wallingford regarding ongoing discussions for the new county records building, which is currently under construction.


David Anthony Mayer (not verified)

25 January 2024

Myself and others warned this was a risk to landowners and Highland County budgets.
Many signed leases without an attorney. Duh! Now you have recoupment of tax savings. The PILOT payments are delayed to the county coffers. They may never get paid if production of electricity does not stay at 100%. The threshold is 100% before PILOT is required to be paid. Yes. I am laughing out loud!

David Anthony Mayer (not verified)

26 January 2024

Someone remind me why the County hired an HR manager and staff? Then why not hiring local attorney(s) to review any manual produced by County officials? Wait! Partial answer. Someone told me most local attorneys do not work on Friday.

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