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Halifax County Supes slow down solar permits with eye on tax impact

SoVaNow.com / March 07, 2019
A divided Halifax County Board of Supervisors voted Monday night to slow down the permitting process for new solar farms as a way to send a message to state lawmakers that tax exemptions meant to encourage renewable energy are hurting Halifax County.

The debate produced a 5-3 split among Board members, with Stanley Brandon, William Bryant Claiborne and Hubert Pannell opposing a resolution to amend the county’s solar ordinance. The amendments specify that future tax revenues from solar farms will be scrutinized before any permits are issued.

Supporting the motion were Board Chair Dennis Witt, J.T. Davis, Jeff Francisco, Joseph Rogers and Garland Ricketts. Witt and Davis laid out the case for the resolution by discussing their talks with Richmond lawmakers — fruitless so far — to change the way solar farms are taxed at the local level.

Currently, privately-owned utility scale solar generation facilities greater than 25 megawatts are taxed on a 20/80 basis — with companies responsible for paying 20 percent of the local real estate tax, and exempt from the rest. With Halifax County leading the state in solar farm applications, Witt decried the tax revenues that won’t be flowing into county coffers under the current set of rules.

“There has to be a better deal for rural counties if you want us to do solar energy,” he said.

The resolution, which makes several changes to the county’s solar ordinance, states that “while the Board of Supervisors will consider each conditional use permit application for a large scale solar facility on its merits, the Board is considering tabling forthcoming [requests] … to allow time to analyze any legislative changes that may be forthcoming, and to evaluate the benefits, impacts, and overall performance of large scale solar facilities.”

The resolution also stipulates that solar developers be advised of the county’s position, and scrutinized “to determine if there is sufficient tax revenue” in the future to justify their presence in Halifax County.

Opponents of the policy change suggested it would send a bad signal and place an unfair burden on solar developers who already have applications in place or pending for new facilities in Halifax County. “We should be open for business,” said Stanley Brandon, ED-6 supervisor. “How does this look for future growth?”

Companies that find Halifax County inhospitable to solar energy always have the option of taking their projects elsewhere, Brandon added.

William Bryant Claiborne, ED-8, said solar energy has been a boon for landowners who’ve been able to sell their properties to developers, often at a premium, among other beneficial impacts for Halifax County.

With up to three more projects that could be on the way this year, Claiborne further argued that Halifax County shouldn’t change the rules for solar farms in the middle of the game: “If it’s on the table, they should be allowed to go forward under existing law.”

Although he ultimately backed the ordinance changes, Jeff Francisco, ED-2, voiced some reservations and conceded, “this is kind of saying don’t come before us before next spring.”

Spring marks the earliest opportunity for changing the law governing tax exemptions for solar farms at the state legislature. Witt and Davis are part of a small group of local officials, also from Mecklenburg and Buckingham, who recently lobbied for a bill in the recently-concluded session that would have curtailed the property tax exemption. The bill, by Del. Tommy Wright of Lunenburg, failed to get out of committee.

Wright’s bill proposes to lift the tax exemption for solar farms that start construction after 2020. State law currently eliminates the exemption for projects begun after 2024. Davis expressed the concern that projects built or started prior to the 2024 deadline will forever lie out of reach of local taxation.

“We’re going to leave a lot of money on the table” if projects start up in Halifax County before 2024, Davis said.

Supervisors already have approved six facilities, none of which have begun construction. Mecklenburg County also has issued permits for multiple solar farms.

If turned down by the Board of Supervisors, solar developers would have to wait a full year before they can resubmit permit applications.

While the board action Monday night doesn’t slam the door entirely on new solar farms, members acknowledged that the process for developers will become much more difficult, until the county is satisfied that its concerns over tax revenue are taken seriously.

“I wish we could go back to those six [permitted facilities] and get what would be fair,” said Davis.

In other actions at the monthly board meeting on Monday night:

» Supervisors approved the sale of the Cluster Springs Early Learning Center property to two buyers: Dale Miller, who purchased the vacated school building and surrounding 7.7 acres for $50,000, and Steven Bryant, who purchased two ball field properties for $60,000.

» Supervisors also signaled their support for a developers’ tax incentive to promote construction of new residential subdivisions. Board members are expected to vote next month on adoption of an ordinance that would direct the Halifax Opportunity Fund to pay out grants to developers that meet certain stipulations for high-end residential housing units valued at $150,000 or more.

The grants would amount to half of new taxes on qualifying homes for a period of 15 years. Davis, chairman of the finance committee, described the incentive program as a “win-win” for the county after years of nearly non-existent subdivision development, generating revenues that otherwise wouldn’t exist. “This is not revenue neutral, it’s revenue positive” for the county, he said,

Claiborne and Brandon, however, suggested that while the program should go forward, Halifax County should maintain the right to recoup its tax investment if developers sell the homes that are covered by the program. Reasoning that the expense of infrastructure improvements such as water, sewer and subdivision streets are factored into the sale price of homes, Claiborne said Halifax should get its incentive funding back when developers move units and “that money might come back to the Opportunity Fund so we can use it again,” he said.

» Supervisors approved a $32,000 expenditure to move the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office into rented space in order to move forward with the demolition of the prosecutors’ building on the Courthouse square.

» The board approved a new Dollar General store in the Turbeville area, at the intersection of Turbeville and Melon Roads;

» The Board also made a number of appointments: Kathryn Roberts to the advisory board of Danville Community College, Jimmy Watts to the open ED-7 seat on the county planning commission, and Sheriff Fred Clark to the VASAP board.



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Comments

So Mr. Davis and HIS Board are at it again, turning away potential sources of revenue (aka taxes) from prospective solar farms who are seeking to locate here. For a County that says it is "build friendly" the policies and voting history of the Board shows otherwise. Davis noted, “I wish we could go back to those six [permitted facilities] and get what would be fair” to which I say fair is what the law allows, and an 20/80 basis for taxes is what the General Assembly mandates. This resolution amounts to a moratorium which under the Code of Virginia is illegal. These business only need a reason to not seek to locate here and there is no money left on the table if they dont build in the County there will be ZERO percent of taxes paid, monies that could be earmarked for the schools. I commend William Bryant Claiborne for standing up on this matter. He also wants a High School that is more than "adequate" (in the words of Mr. Davis) and has the County's best interest at heart.

Comments

Here we go again, Davis-Witt and company driving away more revenue for poor old HC. Pittsylvania County just approved a 1200 acre solar farm with 100% approval from the board of supes and planning commission. Why???..because they know a good deal when they see one. Davis&Witt; are probably trying to get their own pockets padded with some of the easy cash. Anyone who believes the two crooks care about Halifax County is purely insane. They have just about stopped all industry from coming to this looser of a county. Everybody knows we need some real leadership for the good of this county. I say, Brandon for board chairman, Claiborne vice and let them try to sort through the rebuilding of this county.

Comments

Halifax county need to place signs at each entrance to the county,?HALIFAX COUNTY CLOSED TO ALL BUSINESSES!!! After the vote to BAN solar farms, I’ll be one of the many looking for somewhere else to relocate. I have lived several places but never in a more business negative area. And these dopes want to build a $1000,000,000 school!!! How??? Idiots & fools.

Comments

Good long term thinking. The counties/places that welcome and fall prey to these shyster solar farm salesmen will very soon regret it.
Do you tax revenue seekers not see that so much better things are coming your way. Do not despair and give up so easily. You live in a beautiful place that is so much more attractive. The blight of those short term low revenue producers you will have to live with for the rest of your life. They are taking advantage of you. Open your eyes.

Comments

Wrong, where are the better things coming this way? The revenue that solar produces is about 100% more than the revenue that is coming in now.The only thing I see coming is the Billiond ollar school that we cant afford.

Comments

Some tax $ is better than no tax $. Not to mention, it is PRIVATE land. What is next - BOS telling a landowner they can't cut timber because the cutover looks bad? A private land owner should be able to do business on his land as long as he/she is playing by the rules. The rules are clear. 8 people telling business that they are not welcome is counter productive. With this mind set, we will continue to lag behind.


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