Pulaski County Presiding Commissioner Gene Newkirk suggested that the solar farm tax controversy may have to be resolved in a court room, at Thursday's County Commission meeting.
Newkirk announced that he had received a call from the Presiding Commissioner of Bates County, Mo. Bates County is located south of Kansas City bordering on the Kansas state line. According to Newkirk, MC Power had an operation in Bates County that was there before their Presiding Commissioner had been elected.
Newkirk said that Bates County commissioner told him that MC Power wasn't paying their taxes in Bates County, but the County filed suit against them. According to Newkirk, MC Power is now paying their taxes in Bates County.
The Daily Guide asked if the county was considering filing suit against MC Power and Newkirk replied, "That's probably what it's going to come down to."
"We'd like to solve it before it gets to that," Eastern District Commissioner Lynn Sharp said.
Newkirk said he had received a copy of a letter from a law firm offering an opinion on the issue to the Christian County Assessor, Danny Gray, where a solar farm is under construction near Nixa and reportedly the largest solar farm in the state. The law firm, Lowther Johnson, based out of Springfield, told Gray that they did not believe MC Power was exempt from paying taxes.
The Lowther Johnson attourney, John Housley, wrote, "In sum it is my opinion, the installation of a solar energy system as a fixture on the subject real property by a For Profit Corporation to generate and sell electricity to a third party off site, does not qualify as a newly constructed fixture on the property that is exempt from taxation under Section 137.100(10), RSMo."
The RSMo statute that Housley is referring to in his statement is the section of the law that the Daily Guide has reported on in the past. The law exempts "solar energy systems not held for resale" as tax exempt.
The County Commission argues that the power produced at the solar farm is ultimately being sold to customers and is therefore not exempt. The Commission doesn't dispute that the land that the solar farm sits on is tax exempt, as that is actually owned by the city of Waynesville. However, the equipment owned by MC Power is subject to property taxes, as far as the County Commission is concerned.
The Commission emphatically says it did not sign any documents abating taxes for the solar farm and that the city of Waynesville did not have the authority to sign anything on behalf of the county.
Newkirk said the Lowther Johnson legal opinion is the third one he has received on the subject. The Daily Guide asked who the other opinions were from and Newkirk said there had been one from "the Lake" and one from Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Hillman. Accordint to Newkirk, all of the legal opinions agreed that MC Power is subject to taxes based on the law.
According to Newkirk, Pulaski County Assessor Daniel Whittle and Bates County's Assessor Danny Gray are in contact with one another and trading information back and forth about Bates County's experience.
Newkirk confirmed that MC Power began paying their taxes and Bates County dropped its suit. Western District Commissioner Rick Zweerink said he believed that Christian County would be filing suit themselves if they have the tax issue with MC Power.
Newkirk pointed out that there were over 30 solar farms in Missouri and he believed the commission would have more information next week.