October 13, 2006

Aggressive economic development stance paying off

Participants in Monday’s bus tour through this area’s wind farms laughed as Greg Wortham reminded them that “100 percent of zero is zero.”

Wortham, executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium, served as the group’s tour guide on the trip sponsored by the Floydada Economic Development Corporation.

That particular part of the tour conversation was directed at royalty negotiations, but Wortham took a similar stand when the focus turned to economic development.

As an example of the positive aspects of the wind energy industry on local economies, he talked about the Blackwell Consolidated Independent School District. Officials there had courted the wind industry and were reaping the benefits of that effort.

Other districts, Wortham said, refused to work with the developers and those developers moved to the next county.

In a separate interview, BCISD Director of Finance Penny Baucom said the district’s tax value had risen steadily over the past couple of years as the industry expanded its operations.

The estimated taxable value as of Sept. 12 attributed to the wind farms was $212 million, she said. That was up from $159 million for the district’s total taxable value in 2005.

Mrs. Baucom said the district has 140 students and has been considered a poor district in terms of Robin Hood school financing.

The downside of the growth in tax revenue is that now the district is considered rich and is having to send more money back to Austin.

Still, she said the district is benefitting in more ways than not.

“It’s helped us keep our fund balance,” she said.

That is important, given the instability of school finance over the past few years.

James Bible, superintendent for the district, said they signed a valuation limitation agreement with the wind energy company with which they are working. That agreement allows the company certain tax benefits but at the same time protects the school district from financial loss. It is similar to the limitation under consideration by the Plainview school district as it works with the ethanol plant being constructed by Scoular Grain.

In Blackwell’s agreement, Bible said the first two years the company will pay the full amount of taxes. Over the next eight, 40 percent of the contract will go directly to the district. The company will get 60 percent as a tax rebate. Over those eight years there is a $10 million limitation agreement, Bible said.

The numbers cited by Mrs. Baucom were among the things that have excited Floydada EDC Director Dora Ross.

However, beyond the tax benefit, Mrs. Ross sees jobs for her neighbors.

According to Ken Starcher, the director of the Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas A&M University, each 100-megawatt wind farm requires a full-time workforce of 6-8 employees. Those workers, generally, are young adults with families and their salaries can be in the $35-$40,000 range. Those are permanent jobs, Starcher said.

In addition to that are the short-term construction jobs that will come to the area as the wind farms are built.

For Starcher, the economic benefits of wind energy speak for themselves.

However, Mike Hatley, executive director of the Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development, said communities need to proceed with caution.

He said that his community has seen an immediate economic boost from the construction jobs and that anytime economic development adds jobs to an area, there is a certain amount of retail development that goes with it.

However, he said he is not sure what kind of long-term impact the industry will have on the area’s job market.

Community leaders need to be realistic in their expectations and especially in their projections, he warned.

Still, he agreed that the wind farms did provide tax benefits.

That was supported by figures provided by Patricia Davis with the Central Appraisal District of Nolan County.

Her figures showed that the tax levy for the county was $2,460,109 in 2000. In 2005, it was $3,746,639.07

For Bible, the long-term impact is more evident and more tangible. His school district is already seeing the benefits.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “we sold the bonds the other night for a $9.2 million school.”

(Contact Richard Porter at 806-296-1352 or porter@plainviewdailyherald.com)


URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2006/10/13/aggressive-economic-development-stance-paying-off/