Officials say leases better protect property owners and county
The Assessor and Zoning Committee is going to recommend the county go “on record” that any contracts land owners sign with wind farms be leases instead of easements.
Gerald Link, R-District 5, said the Zoning Committee has been reviewing the issue for several months and trying to learn as much as possible about wind farms.
Invenergy, a Chicago based wind farm developer, plans to build a 30,000- to 35,000-acre wind farm in Knox County called Pilot Knob Wind Energy Center. Officials from the company have said it would include 226 wind turbines and eventually generate enough electricity for 133,000 average homes. Invenergy’s potential investment could be about $800 million.
However, county officials have expressed some concerns because the company’s contract language calls for easements. County Board Chairman Allen Pickrel has been outspoken that the contracts be leases, to protect property owners as well as the county’s interests. He said none of the five other Illinois counties contacted used easements on wind farms.
Link said county officials best understood leases, and that there was “a lot more gray areas” with easements. He cited easement agreements with telephone companies and said the property owner has no control about when the company comes onto their land. He also said leases allow for some flexibility if the property is sold to a new owner.
But the biggest issue for the county is tax collection. County Assessor Chris Gray has said in the past that she was concerned with making sure the property tax bill was sent to the wind farm developer and assessed separately, something the county currently does with leased property but not with easements.
Another issue raised at Wednesday’s board meeting was that the county could lose out on property taxes all together. Pickrel said a “utility easement” could be a non-taxed property. He and Greg Bacon, D-District 2, were afraid the developer would eventually claim the wind farm towers were on “utility easements” and therefore should not be subject to property tax.
“If it becomes a utility easement, it could be non-taxable,” Pickrel said. “The county could lose out on a lot of tax money.”
Bacon said it was important to let property owners and their lawyers be free to make their own decisions, but the issue is about protecting the county’s tax revenue.
“We’re not trying to infringe on landowners rights to do business,” he said. “The reason we want a lease is to protect the county’s interest in collecting taxes.”
Link said the assessor and zoning committee would likely have a resolution on next month’s agenda that would allow the county to “go on record” about the lease issue.
In other business, after a round of discussion, the board approved doing the engineering necessary to purchase a new generator for the nursing home. Four board members voted against the action because there was no estimate for the engineering cost.
Nursing Home Administrator Marianne Wiesen said the situation was critical because if there is a bad storm the home would not have a backup. Dale Parsons, D-District 3, said he thought this was an emergency situation. Because the installation would still require going out for bid and state approval, a delay could mean it was May before the generator was in place.
Bacon, who voted no, said he just didn’t want the county to go in blind.
“I just would have liked some sort of ball park idea,” he said.
George Knapp, D-District 4, said engineering costs are typically 10 percent of the total project cost, which is estimated at about $60,000. The county was not required to bid the engineering or even to have full board approval because it is considered a “professional service.”
— The board approved $36,000 for Foth, a consultant, to do the engineering for a new leachate tank. A leachate tank helps control leachate, which is rain water that mixes with landfill waste. Pickrel said the tank was something that should have been handled by the previous landfill administrator but had not been. Wayne Saline, R-District 4, voted against the issue, but not because he didn’t support the project. He said he does not trust Foth and thinks the county needs to look for another consultant.
— The board authorized seeking bids for an improvement to the front entrance of the nursing home and a parking lot expansion at the Mary Davis Home.
n Monmouth City Administrator Eric Hanson was appointed to the Orpheum Theatre board.
— The board accepted bids totaling about $157,000 from Dave Gill Trucks, of Peoria, for a tandem dump truck and semi-tractor.
28 February 2008
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