A large wind farm that would straddle the Marshall-Stark County line would be placed in an enterprise zone to get sales tax benefits for the developers under a proposal to be discussed at public hearings this week.
At issue in the hearings, set for 3 p.m. Wednesday in the Stark County Courthouse and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Marshall County Courthouse, will be whether the 112-turbine, 200-megawatt wind energy installation planned for the Camp Grove area by California-based Orion Energy LLC should be annexed into the existing Marshall County Enterprise Zone, even though more than a third of the property is in neighboring Stark County.
The hearing will be conducted by the North Central Illinois Council of Governments, a Princeton-based agency that administers the enterprise zone. But the annexation eventually would have to be approved by both county boards and also the five Marshall County member municipalities of Henry, Lacon, Sparland, Toluca and Wenona.
Although enterprise zone status often provides abatements of increased property taxes arising from new development, the only benefits for Orion from the proposed annexation would be exemption from sales tax on materials bought in Illinois, said Linda Sullivan, an administrator for NCICG.
Orion got special-use permits from both counties last year to develop the project at an estimated total investment of about $200 million. The turbines would be located in an arc-shaped pattern around Camp Grove, with 69 projected in Marshall County and the other 43 in Stark County.
The enterprise zone, which was created in 1993 as the last such area allowed under state law, consists of areas around the five member municipalities, joined together by a 3-foot strip running along the highways in between. It’s limited to a total of 15 square miles, and about 5.2 miles are currently in use.
The proposed wind farm, which would have turbines scattered through four rural townships, would involve about an additional 2 square miles, Sullivan said.
No estimate on how much the sales tax exemption would be was available, but “it doesn’t appear that it’s going to cost Marshall County any money to speak of” because of the way county shares are calculated on the basis of population, said County Board Chairman Tom Wenk.
“We’re very much in favor of the wind farm,” he said, “and we think the rewards we’ll reap in the long haul will more than offset any sales tax we lose.”
In Stark County, the situation has potential to be politically touchier because a property tax increase for the county’s general fund will be sought in the November general election. Even if the sales tax exemption is small, the proposal puts county officials in the position of giving tax breaks to an out-of-state developer while asking local residents to pay higher taxes.
Board Chairman Mike Bigger. predicted his board would favor the plan, which also would result in him becoming a non-voting member of the enterprise zone board.
“I think our board will be receptive to the proposal because of its specific application to a particular commercial development,” he said. “We hope having a $200 million development on our tax rolls for 30 to 50 years will clearly mitigate the one-time loss of our share of the sales tax revenue.”
Maps of the involved areas and other information are available at the NCICG, 110 N. Main St., Princeton.
By Gary L. Smith of The Journal Star: 686-3041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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