Thursday’s meeting of the Herkimer County Legislature was a lesson in Civics 101, as the lawmakers agreed to have County Attorney Rob Malone negotiate a final contract with PPM Energy for the Fairfield wind-turbine project.
Before the legislature could charge Malone with the duty of negotiating a contract, the proposal was moved from the finance committee to a committee of the whole, which then reconvened as the full legislature to give the county attorney the power to negotiate on their behalf.
“This is a good start,” outgoing District 5 Legislator Gary Jackson said. It was Jackson that moved to have the proposal put before a committee of the whole, as he said it was time to take the negotiation process to the next step, after almost four years of discussions with the company. “Nothing was really decided here tonight, as the final decision as whether or not to sign the contract will rest with the next legislature. The purpose of these proceedings were to get the ball rolling and the negotiation process with our attorney and their attorney started.”
With the status of the Manheim and Jordanville wind projects in limbo, Jackson and other legislators felt the time was now to move forward on the Fairfield project. “The developer said they are willing to walk away, and after the latest developments with the wind projects in Manheim and Jordanville I believe them. I know we have heard this before, that they will walk away, but this time I think they are for real,” Jackson said.
“We like to think that Herkimer County is the only place they are considering for these turbines, but we know there are other places they can go,” outgoing District 12 Legislator Keith Davy said. “To lose this project to another part of the state would be devastating for Herkimer County.”
The vote to charge the county attorney with the negotiating duties was 11-5, with Legislators Vincent Bono, John Brezinski, Leonard Hendrix, Bernard Peplinski and Raymond Smith casting the no votes. District 14 Legislator Dennis Korce, who is also chairman of the finance committee, was not in attendance at Thursday night’s meeting, as Hendrix said he was engaged in snow removal activities in the town of Little Falls.
“I’m not sure everyone knows what they are voting on,” Bono, District 11, said prior to the vote.
Bono was referencing information Jackson supplied to his fellow legislators from a previous finance committee meeting.
That information included guidelines for the contract negotiation, which include a proposal for a payment in lieu of taxes of $8,000 per megawatt, for a total of $640,000 on an 80 megawatt project. The information also said that the county would receive a one-time payment of $360,000 to $400,000 in its general fund for use on other projects such as the construction of a new county correctional facility.
“One of my main concerns is how can I justify an 85 percent tax break for this company and not for anyone else,” Bono said. “We want to attract businesses to Herkimer County, but we cannot give 85 percent tax breaks to everyone. We need to continue to work with the numbers.”
“We talk about bringing jobs to Herkimer County, and this project will bring with it 150 jobs during the construction period and 15 full-time jobs afterwards,” Jackson said. “These full-time jobs will have an average salary of $40,000 to $60,000, which are good paying jobs for this area, and it is estimated that the 150 workers here during the construction period will have a $20 to $20.5 million impact on our county’s economy.”
That said, Jackson reiterated that it would be the next legislature’s decision to sign a contract with PPM.
“The next legislature will take it from here,” he said. “It will be up to them to vote yes or no on the contract.”
Malone said the negotiation process would be a “significant” undertaking.
Prior to the reports and resolutions portion of the meeting, Fairfield Town Supervisor Frank Matthews and Norway Town Supervisor Judy Gokey called for action on the wind-turbine project, echoing Jackson’s belief that the county is running out of time to negotiate a contract with PPM.
“It has been four years and seemingly the county is running out of time,” Matthews said. “I applaud the legislature for negotiating what is considered to be the best PILOT agreement in the state, but I believe we have reached a plateau. I do not think the company is willing to go any higher. It is very admirable what this legislature has been able to do, but now is the time to move forward with this contract and this project.”
“I applaud the county for working to get as much as it can from the company in its PILOT agreement, but now the time has come to settle this. I do not think the company is willing to give more, and I also believe them when they say they will leave if we cannot move this process along,” Gokey said. “Now is the time to settle on something, or we risk losing the project. We need to take the next step.”
By Rob Juteau
14 December 2007
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