The argument concerning the decision by the Hopkinton Town Council to address, and possibly decide in favor of, the large Brushy Brook Solar array has brought many of our citizens forward — specifically in the new Hopkinton United format.
Frank Landolfi, Sylvia Thompson and I have been watching and working with our town and school budget for 12 years. We have kept the tax rate in Hopkinton extremely stable in each year cycle — the last one had the tax rate the same as the prior year. This is not accidental — we address each item, line by line, and comb the proposed school budgets for every dollar we can reduce. We are perfectly cognizant that many of our citizens struggle to stay in their homes. We also must preserve our farmland, stabilize taxes and create a cleaner future for our children.
Since Hopkinton does not have a strong tax base in retail, commercial, industrial, beach property or wealthy homes, our primary tax base consists of property owners or families, all 8,166 of them, with over 5,000 of them registered voters. Hopkinton United has 400 persons on its petition and their position is to “just say no” to generally rezoning any RFR80 (rural) property for use as Commercial Special, but specifically as regards large solar arrays. However, I believe, the text of the Comprehensive Plan provides supports for the conclusion that the zone change requested would be consistent with the legal standard necessary for rezoning.
I have appreciated Hopkinton United for offering to “just raise our taxes” to save our trees. Unfortunately, I, respectfully, must decline. We do not have a majority of wealthy citizens who can afford this suggestion. We do have 57 trailers, farmers who struggle to keep their land, hourly workers at Electric Boat and other manufacturing facilities, retired couples, single parents, fixed-income widows and widowers. Over the years, our council has often agreed with our citizens who do not want retail or big boxes, massive commercial or industrial facilities, studios, dog tracks, welcome centers or Six Flags. The budget, however, cannot be sustained by homeowners and farmers alone, nor do we wish this rural part of Rhode Island to simply become another bedroom community.
Hopkinton also has a pair of $2 million, 20-year bonds that will come due this year and the next — Land Trust and Road Bonds. Since both are complete, $300,000 will be added to our municipal budget for the next 20 years. This nut does not include the raises in municipal paychecks, equipment, utilities, recreation, school, police, health and pension funds, as well as all the common and needful day-to-day expenses in any town.
After months of discussion, the Brushy Brook solar project will come to a vote on Jan. 28. It consists of 358 acres, of which 120 acres will be solar panels and 58.8 acres will be an easement for the Land Trust. To put it in perspective, Hopkinton has 25,400 acres of forest — which does not include farmland, rivers, waterways, landfills, cemeteries and vacant or municipal lands. Approximate tangible and property taxes will be $346,000 annually. The Brushy Brook property has also already been approved for 145 homes, of which the majority of the abutters disapprove and the Chariho School district is understandably concerned.
Hopkinton United citizens are also upset that I, personally, would address this large project that is to be re-zoned and have actually attempted to negotiate, by requests, an ability for the developer to become a benefactor for the town. Not simply by paying taxes — we all pay taxes — but continuous benefit annually. 100 percent of the municipal electric costs, $40,000 a year for the Land Trust to continue their environmental support, $20,000 a year for our nonprofits that serve so many of us, as well as other codicils and one-time construction payments ($400,000) that would have been borne by the citizens.
This small state is a large community. Saying “no” doesn’t begin to negate the energy needs of our future. Everyone must address renewable energy since all Rhode Island cities and towns are against any future or renovated gas and coal fired plants, nuclear energy facilities and gas pipelines. Most do not have the land to create sufficient energy. We do and, at the same time, preserve farmland, stabilize taxes and create a cleaner future.
The writer is a member of the Hopkinton Town Council.