Gill, FirstLight settle five years’ tax disputes

Staff Writer
Published: 1/24/2020 5:16:24 PM
Modified: 1/24/2020 5:16:12 PM

GILL — An ongoing tax dispute with the FirstLight Hydro Generating Co. has been all but settled, saving the town anticipated legal expenses and likely preventing further legal disputes with FirstLight for at least the next eight years.

The terms of the settlement, which had been negotiated by the town Board of Assessors, were approved by a majority of Town Meeting voters on Wednesday.

The handout presented to the 19 voters in attendance explained that FirstLight has agreed to withdraw five years of pending legal cases regarding its tax bills from Gill, dating from fiscal year 2014 through 2018. In exchange, the town gives a partial refund of $45,910 on the tax bills for fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The town also gives a 7.6 percent reduction on the current assessed value of FirstLight’s Gill properties, and freezes the value through the next fiscal year. (This year, the company’s property was assessed at $14,717,900; it was changed to $13,599,340.)

In addition, the two parties agree to negotiate a five-year tax agreement to cover fiscal years 2022 through 2027.

The paperwork still has to be finalized, but Town Administrator Ray Purington said the deal is essentially guaranteed by Wednesday’s vote.

“I’m not expecting any show-stopping surprises,” he said.

The case dates to early 2015, when FirstLight legally challenged its tax bills from fiscal year 2014 in Gill and Montague. In following years, the company challenged every tax bill from the two towns through fiscal year 2018.

Gill and Montague hired an attorney together. In December 2017, the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board found in favor of the towns in the earliest case, the one regarding the tax bills from fiscal year 2014. When the Appellate Tax Board released the report of its findings in December 2018, FirstLight brought the case to the Massachusetts Appeal Court. At that point, the two towns hired separate attorneys.

This summer, Montague settled its problems with FirstLight out of court. The agreement was similar to the one Gill has since made: partial refunds for fiscal years 2017, ’18 and ’19, and slightly compromised valuation of the company’s properties, with Montague agreeing to reduce the valuation from $135 million to $125 million.

In the handout given to Town Meeting voters, the Gill Board of Assessors was described as unanimously supporting the proposed settlement. The handout drew attention to the legal costs that would likely come with a drawn-out court battle. The cost of defending just the 2014 appeal was estimated at $30,000, with no guarantee of a successful outcome.

The only other article on Wednesday’s warrant was to move money marked for FirstLight legal expenses to a new account marked for general legal expenses. Assessors’ Assistant Lynda Hodsdon Mayo described this as a bookkeeping clarification. The article passed unanimously.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.




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