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October 23, 2012

Dispute over nuclear plant's taxes, value

SEABROOK — At its heyday, the owners of nuclear power plant in Seabrook paid almost $23 million in taxes, representing more than 90 percent of the town’s tax base.

The money helped the town’ construct badly needed new public buildings, like school expansions, police and fire stations, a town hall, library and community center/recreation facility, as well as pay for the abundant services residents receive, all without having to raise property taxes to support most of it.

But those days have been gone for years. In addition to the plant getting a sizable property tax exemption for its pollution control equipment since 1988, which has considerably lowered its taxable value, the implementation of the state wide property tax in 1999 siphoned off more of the plant’s local taxable worth, as the state took a chunk for its utility tax.

Seabrook taxpayers may soon find that plant’s share of local taxes will dip even lower. The town and the plant are currently negotiating an abatement, based on the plant’s argument that it is being assessed, and thus overtaxed.

Seabrook’s assessor, its lawyers and consultants have worked with officials from NextEra Energy hoping to come to an agreement on valuations for 2010 and 2011, Selectman Brendan Kelly said, but no accord has been reached. The town sent out its tax bills based on its belief on the plant’s value for those years, selectmen said, and NextEra filed for abatements.

Selectmen said over the two disputed years, the estimate is that the town and plant officials are about $333 million apart on their notions of the plant’s actual taxable value for 2010 and 2011. Once the abatement issue is resolved, Kelly said, negotiations will begin on the 2012 value of the plant.

But selectmen are hoping to hammer out a valuation agreement with plant owners that extends until 2015, Kelly said. The reason for that, he said, is so town officials can plan for the coming decreases in tax revenues over the coming years. A long-term agreement is preferable so officials can make adjustments to future budgets gradually, Kelly said, instead of being faced with the shock of having to deal with a significant reduction in revenue from its largest taxpayer all at once.

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