MILLSFIELD — Citing the “rocky relationship” with Coos County as well as the possible effects of a redeveloped Balsams Resort in nearby Dixville on their community, voters here recently decided to incorporate as a town.
Seventeen electors met on June 28 at the Log Haven Restaurant to discuss incorporation, according to Wayne Urso, and then voted 15-2 to pursue it. Urso, in an e-mail, said the incorporation can be accomplished only through legislation.
Located in upper eastern Coos County, Millsfield is one of New Hampshire’s 25 “unincorporated places,” 23 of which are in Coos County. While Millsfield voters can cast ballots in state and federal elections, which are overseen by Urso as a selectman, the township is governed by the three-member Coos County Commission.
The relationship between the county commission and Millsfield property owners, including Urso, began fraying in 2014 when concerns were raised about the assessment of a windfarm in Millsfield and Dixville that is owned and operated by Granite Reliable Power, a subsidiary of Brookfield Power.
Five years earlier, the county commission entered into a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with GRP through 2018 that requires the utility to pay the county $495,000 annually.
The county assessed the windfarm at $113 million but the Department of Revenue Administration set the value at $228 million, which alarmed property owners in Dixville, which is also an unincorporated place, and in Millsfield who worried that their property tax bills would soar and that their property would become unsellable.
For most of the past two decades, property owners in the two communities paid little or no property tax to the county because their shares were covered through a combination of timber tax revenues and the PILOT with GRP.
Ultimately, House Bill 1590, which became law in July 2014, resolved the issue by keeping the windfarm assessment at $113 million so long as the PILOT remained in place.
In November 2014, the county inadvertently learned that GRP had entered into a confidential agreement with Millsfield property owners — who earlier in 2014 had sought and were denied abatements by the county — that would pay the property owners not less than $2,500 and not more than $5,000 per year so long as the PILOT remained.
After the agreement became known, several county officials were incensed, but Urso defended it, saying the county did not include Millsfield in the talks to create the PILOT with GRP thus leaving property owners there with only three choices.
Those choices said Urso, were: “Protest the project and then get steamrolled when the project becomes a reality. / Quietly accept the project. / Try to cut a deal with the wind farm so that the permanent residents got something out of the project. Of course we opted for the last option.”
Then as now, Urso holds that the county is not treating Millsfield fairly, noting that money that was in Millsfield’s account has been used to pay for a number projects and expenses, none of which directly benefitted his community.
In a slide presentation that Urso made last month at the Log Haven Restaurant, he said Millsfield “is under the absolute control of Coös County,” adding that “Millsfield in the past had no control and we have been repeatedly harmed by the County.”
Millsfield, he said, “…is at the mercy of whatever the latest whim of the county is. For the future, if Millsfield does nothing, Millsfield will continue to be at the mercy of a merciless Coös County.” He said Millsfield has “repeatedly asserted to the County that the governance of Millsfield requires communication, cooperation and trust of all parties. This has always fallen on deaf ears in favor of secretly-approved projects,” like the GRP windfarm