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Turbines will come, but will the money?

CAMBRIDGE — Where does the county stand between bonanza and crisis?

Tom Nicholson and Jesse Crouch are two elected officials who should know. Nicholson is county board chairman and Crouch is the county’s finance committee chairman.

Crouch pointed out any wind farms will have a greater impact on the townships and even the school districts where they’re built than the county.

He noted taxable or real property value on a $1 million wind turbine (although a single turbine’s total value could range between $1.5 and $3 million) is $600,000, meaning the assessed value would be $200,000.

A hundred turbines would have a total assessed valuation of $20 million. (Right now it appears between 100 and 500 could be built in the county.)

“That’s just a three percent increase in the county in equalized assessed valuation,” Crouch said. “Total equalized assessed valuation is near $700 million. It’s not a bonanza. It’s not going to solve the county’s problems. It will help. It will keep up with inflation and the increased costs that we encounter.”

Crouch said an increase of $10 or $20 million in equalized assessed valuation could double a township’s tax base, while a school district that lands 100 wind turbines could also see a 50 percent increase in valuation.

Only the county... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Tom Nicholson and Jesse Crouch are two elected officials who should know. Nicholson is county board chairman and Crouch is the county’s finance committee chairman.
 
Crouch pointed out any wind farms will have a greater impact on the townships and even the school districts where they’re built than the county.
 
He noted taxable or real property value on a $1 million wind turbine (although a single turbine’s total value could range between $1.5 and $3 million) is $600,000, meaning the assessed value would be $200,000.
 
A hundred turbines would have a total assessed valuation of $20 million. (Right now it appears between 100 and 500 could be built in the county.)
 
“That’s just a three percent increase in the county in equalized assessed valuation,” Crouch said. “Total equalized assessed valuation is near $700 million. It’s not a bonanza. It’s not going to solve the county’s problems. It will help. It will keep up with inflation and the increased costs that we encounter.”
 
Crouch said an increase of $10 or $20 million in equalized assessed valuation could double a township’s tax base, while a school district that lands 100 wind turbines could also see a 50 percent increase in valuation.
 
Only the county government will see the revenue from building permits and zoning fees.
 
Nicholson said he felt that one-time revenue ought to be applied towards capital improvements. He noted the courthouse clock tower and roof need $600,000 to $1 million worth of work. (The original project was just clock tower repair for an estimated $150,000, but officials decided to repair the roof at the same time.)
 
Both men said adding parking space at the courthouse is another priority, as is an employee entrance. Crouch noted the additional parking would benefit the
 
public even more than it would benefit county employees, as the employees arrive early and tend to take the closest parking places.
 
The revenue from the building and zoning permits would come in to the county’s general fund. Crouch also said the county has increased zoning costs associated with wind farms, from inspections to notices, publications and meetings.
 
If the county were to hold its property tax levy the same, revenue from annual taxes would hold down the county’s portion of property taxes, which is now about 13 percent, as the total tax dollars levied would be spread over greater wealth.
 
“We signed on to this job in order to make the money that we get from taxpayers stretch as far as it possibly can and that we get the greatest bang for our buck,” said Nicholson. “It never seems to be enough to get the job done.”
 
Right now the county is trying to find more money. A new county subcommittee is looking for all possible sources of revenue. Crouch said the county sets a tax levy for 12 funds, and only the general fund is at the maximum rate.
 
“The other ones are not, because they’re being adequately funded at the rate they’re at. I’m sure for every dollar that comes in, we’re going to have requests that spend $5,” he grinned.
 
“And they may be good requests,” added Nicholson. “But again, my momma told me ‘Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.’
 
He said it’s within the realm of possibility the state legislature could decide to encourage wind energy beyond the federal government’s incentives, and abate property taxes for wind companies. In that case, the various taxing districts here might see no increase at all, even if wind turbines are built.
 
Revenue sources are unpredictable. Neither man could say when the Atkinson landfill will be ready to jump on its expansion plans, although the county has a host agreement that will provide revenue.
 
“Eight years ago we thought this thing was going to happen,” said Crouch.
 
“It’s a long process that involves many things that we’re not in the loop on,” noted Nicholson. “Having said that, I think I’m optimistic and it will be a boost to the county.”
 
Crouch said any revenue from wind turbines is several years down the road.
 
“I’m not real anxious to make a lot of hard plans on how to spend it until we get a little closer to receiving it,” he smiled.
 
“I agree there needs to be an intermediate and long-range planning,” said Nicholson. “I would argue that to return revenue to capital improvement is a plan.”
 
Another existing but unfunded plan on the books is a greenway plan created six years ago with Bi-State Regional Commission several years ago. Nicholson said it hasn’t been forgotten, but the county is just realistic.
 
“It’s not that we’re not taking advantage of grants, it’s that there’s no money out there. It’s being spent abroad,” he said. “What the dollars realized from special use permits and building fees and that sort of thing probably plugged back into some of our most urgent needs,” he said.
 
Decisions on the use of any annual property tax increase, he said, could come once the county finds out how much the equalized assessed valuation will go up, and the county’s share.
 
The men agreed the state legislature’s property tax exemptions of two years ago have had a significant impact. They cost the county government $70,000 per year, Crouch noted. He gave an idea of how many wind turbines it would take to offset those exemptions, using a conservative estimate of a $1.2 million turbine.
 
“It would take the revenue from 130 wind turbines to replace that, just to put it in perspective,” he added. “It seems to me the state government has declared war on local governments. It’s hard to say, but I think that’s true.”
 
“I’m pretty sure Henry County, being the second windiest county in Illinois of 102 (counties), that we’re probably going to end up with turbines,” said Nicholson. “To predict what sort of revenue that’s going to come on a regular basis is maybe a bit too optimistic.”
 
He added local politicians are “realistic enough to realize the state of the state and country,” and try to keep county services at the current level to the people of Henry County and not follow the lead of others and mortgage our children’s future.
 
“In the future as we have consistent revenue, I would like to see us solve the health insurance problem that we have for our staff and to pay (county employees) really what they’re worth, but that’s only when we have revenue we can count on,” he said. “For now, it’s enough to keep the quality of service where it is.”
 
Beyond a revenue source, both men said they like wind power a lot.
 
Nicholson said like hydrogen fuel cars, wind energy can reduce dependence on fossil fuels and foreign countries.
 
“It’s a way to say we’re going to not . . . do something that’s fossil-fuel based, and there are jobs created and some jobs maintained here in Henry County, and that’s important, too,” he said.
 
“It’s a plus for the farmer and plus for construction people, and there are people employed in maintaining it. It decreases fossil fuel and increases the tax base . . . to me, they’re a plus all the way around,” said Crouch.


Source: http://www.starcourier.com/...

MAR 15 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1724-turbines-will-come-but-will-the-money
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