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    Greene residents to vote Saturday on solar project, budget at annual Town Meeting


    June 17, 2022 - Vanessa Paolella, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

     

      Jun. 17—GREENE — Voters will have some big decisions to make at Greene's annual Town Meeting this Saturday, with articles proposing a $3.4 million municipal budget and a solar farm lease agreement.

      Residents will consider a total of 57 warrant articles at the Town Meeting, to be held at Greene Central School beginning 9 a.m.

      The Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee have put forth two separate proposals, with the selectmen plan totaling $3.43 million and the committee's $3.49 million. The selectmen's proposal would be a 4.9% increase from the previous calendar year budget, and the Budget Committee's a 5.6% increase.

      At the Town Meeting last year, residents approved switching from a calendar year budget to a fiscal year budget. This is the first time residents will consider a fiscal year budget.

      Town Manager Carol Buzzell said the main difference between the two proposals is that the Budget Committee recommends $50,000 more in the Public Works budget to account for rising paving costs.

      The Budget Committee created their proposal several weeks after the selectmen's, at a time when it was clear that paving would cost more than previously thought. The Budget Committee's recommendation more closely reflects the current rate of inflation, Buzzell said.

      It's possible the town may ask residents to raise the figure further out of concern for increasing paving costs Saturday, she added.

      The only other difference in the proposals is that the Budget Committee recommends $5,000 more in charitable donations, specifically to Androscoggin Home Health.

      Buzzell said Wednesday the estimated tax impact was not yet available.

      The Public Works budget is responsible for the greatest increase in the municipal budget. In 2021, Public Works was budgeted just over $1 million dollars. For the upcoming fiscal year, the selectmen have budgeted $1.13 million, a 12.8% increase, and the Budget Committees has proposed $1.18 million, a 17.7% increase.

      Beyond paving expenses, nearly all of the remaining increase is due to overdue maintenance of Public Works equipment, Buzzell said.

      "Our trucks were neglected for quite a few years," she said. "We've had quite a few breakdowns."

      Residents will also be asked to approve the purchase of a plow truck.

      Article 7 proposes splitting the total annual tax bill between two payment dates, with half of the town taxes due in November and the other half in May. The move would be somewhat more difficult for the town, Buzzell said, but it could help reduce the burden of a large lump sum payment on residents if approved.

      Perhaps the most controversial question Saturday is Article 8, which asks residents whether they authorize the town to enter into a lease agreement with Greene Apple Solar Power, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based Swift Current Energy. The renewable energy company is seeking to create a 120 megawatt solar project in Greene which the company estimates would power up to 30,500 Maine homes each year.

      By their calculations, the $155 million project would generate at least $5 million in tax revenue and more than $12 million to local landowners over the life of the project.

      If the lease agreement is authorized, solar panels would be placed on town property, in the field behind the new Public Works building at 60 School St. The company is additionally seeking to lease several private properties.

      Selectman John Soucy explained that the approval of the lease agreement is just the first step of the process. In order to place solar panels on private land, the town would need to conduct a permit review, which he said would, among other things, consider whether the solar panels would be "an eyesore."

      The project would bring in roughly $100,000 of revenue for the town in its first year Soucy said, rising at a rate similar to inflation each year following. This money would be put into the general fund, similar to other town revenue.

      Several residents on the Citizens of Greene Facebook page expressed concerns that if Greene Apple Solar were to close, the town would be responsible for disposing of solar panels and cleaning up the project.

      Under state law, solar companies are required to create an escrow account with enough money to clean up the project site if necessary, Soucy explained. In simple terms, the solar company is required to set aside a sum of money that cannot be touched by either party unless specific conditions are met.

      The town would pay nothing toward the project, Soucy said. "Every time our attorney takes a look at the contract, the solar company pays that for us," he said.

      Soucy recognizes that some residents would rather see the property used as a recreation field, however he said it is not well-suited to be a soccer field or baseball field due to a downward slope.

      "You'd have to put a lot of work into making that a usable sports field," he said.

      On May 23, the town held a public hearing where five professionals involved with the project answered residents' questions. A recording of the meeting is available for viewing on the town of Greene's website. These professionals will also be at the Town Meeting on Saturday to answer questions.

      ___

      (c)2022 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

      Visit the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine) at www.sunjournal.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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