Umholtz says enterprise zone extension goes against spirit, letter of law
Just a day after Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz threatened legal action against the county if it extends an enterprise zone, the state agency that regulates the zone said an extension is perfectly legal.
But Umholtz said the agency, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, doesn’t have authority above state law, which he believes prohibits the extension to a proposed wind farm near the Tazewell and Logan county line.
“That, in fact, is legal,” IDCEO spokeswoman Marcelyn Love said Wednesday.
The city of Pekin and the county want to extend their jointly owned enterprise zone using connected, 3-foot-wide strips of land from Pekin to the county line.
There it would include the Rail Splitter Wind Farm, proposed by Horizon Wind Energy LLC.
Horizon would pay the city and county a $300,000 fee to split for allowing it into the zone, where it would receive sales tax abatement on towers it would purchase in the state.
A copy of IDCEO’s eligibility criteria for enterprise zones says using the strips of land is allowable, as long as they’re no less than three feet wide and no more than 10 feet wide.
“It is legal,” Love said, and several areas across the state have done the same thing, receiving approval from IDCEO.
But Umholtz said such an extension violates the spirit and letter of the Illinois Enterprise Zone Act, which he said is superior to anything done by IDCEO.
“They cannot adopt regulations that usurp the authority of the statute,” he said.
Umholtz also said Horizon’s inclusion would mean revenue loss for state taxpayers.
Love said businesses inside the state’s 97 enterprise zones invested $3.5 billion in fiscal year 2007 and only help local economies.
“The purpose of an enterprise zone is to stimulate the economy,” she said. “We look at enterprise zones as a valuable tool to help strengthen the economy.”
The proposed wind farm would straddle the Tazewell and Logan county line, bringing 38 of 67 towers to Tazewell County.
Several county officials and County Board members say they disagree with Umholtz’s position.
“I don’t think it’s illegal,” Logan County State’s Attorney Tim Huyett said Wednesday. “Stu actually called me about that one morning. I told him that it may be against the spirit of the law, but not against the letter of the law.”
The Logan County Board previously extended an enterprise zone to include its half of the project and Huyett said he has no intention of fighting that decision.
“I do not intend to take legal action against them,” he said, adding that Umholtz’s willingness to take legal action against Tazewell County was “highly unusual,” but deferred to his judgment as a colleague and friend.
Tazewell County Board Chairman Jim Unsicker said he disagrees with Umholtz.
“I believe we’re well within our rights to expand the enterprise zone in that manner,” Unsicker said. “No one seems to have a problem with it except Mr. Umholtz.”
But Tazewell County Board member Mike Godar said he supports Umholtz and would vote against the expansion, saying the $300,000 fee amounts to pay-to-play politics.
“If I was the state’s attorney, I’d be saying the same thing,” Godar said.
By Kevin Sampier
16 July 2008
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