[NEWS] Dispute Over Seneca Biomass Property Tax Bill in Eugene, Oregon
– by Christian Wihtol, June 6, 2016, Register Guard
Rising 100 feet tall, burning truck-load after truck-load of wood waste, and, in cold weather, belching plumes of white steam high into the air, the Seneca Sustainable Energy LLC power plant north of Eugene cuts an eye-catching profile.
But how much is the innovative 38-acre facility worth?
Seneca and government tax authorities have fought quietly in Oregon Tax Court over that question ever since the local Jones family built the wood-burning electricity plant and opened it in April 2011.
Given what’s at stake — potentially many millions of dollars in property taxes over the plant’s life — the sides are digging in and the disagreement may drag on for more years.
Count it as one more dispute at a plant beset by controversy ever since it was proposed.
Under valuation formulas advocated by the state and Lane County, Seneca should now be paying roughly $500,000 or more a year in property taxes on the plant.
But Seneca, using a valuation method it will not disclose to the public, would drastically lower that to $190,000 a year or even less.
The disagreement revolves around arcane property-tax rules and value-setting procedures for industrial facilities.
Plenty of people — from homeowners to business executives — challenge their tax bills. But the Seneca dispute stands out for the unusually large sums involved.
Seneca says it spent $65 million to build the plant. To help the company, federal and state governments awarded it $28 million in subsidies, government records show.
The state and Lane County, in Tax Court filings and other records, estimate the plant was worth $57 million to $60 million at the outset, and, using standard industrial depreciation would be worth about $48 million by 2014, with more yearly declines after that.
But Seneca, in court filings, argues the plant even at opening was worth only $30 million at tops, and now is worth just $17.5 million or less.
Seneca declined to comment on the litigation.