Unless county commissions take a hard line on taxing wind energy production, local governments will lose the ability to recover the impacts of this growing industry, Natrona County commissioners said Tuesday.
“There’s an opportunity for counties to receive a [steady] stream of revenue,” Bill McDowell said during a work session. “We need a bigger piece of the action.”
In its 2011 session, the Legislature did not pass a bill that would have had wind energy companies pay higher generation taxes in Wyoming in exchange for ending the state sales tax on equipment used in wind farm construction.
The Wyoming County Commission Association opposed that bill, in part because some counties would prefer the sales tax money up front rather than to wait for the long-term gains from a tax on the power, Rob Hendry said.
However, if the Legislature decides to revisit the tax per megawatt, McDowell said the counties need to take the attitude that most of the revenues should revert to them.
The unsuccessful $3 flat tax – regarded by the wind energy industry as fair – would have returned 60 percent, or $1.80 to the state, with the remaining 40 percent or $1.20 going to local governments, McDowell said.
If local governments within a county are allocated these revenues the way sales taxes are, Natrona County stands to receive only 16 cents of that $3, he said.
However, energy companies don’t locate their major wind farms with their 300-foot-plus towers within city limits, but rather in the unincorporated areas of the counties where the roads and other infrastructure suffer because of that development, McDowell said. “In Natrona County, the municipalities that have none of the impact get all of the money.”
County representatives, including Commission Chairman Ed Opella, meeting next week about wind energy need to take a hard line with legislators, because changing revenue allocation formulas will be easier as bills are crafted instead of later after they become law, he said.
Besides pushing for greater wind energy revenues, commissioners also agreed to proposing the consolidation of funds for building repairs set aside in the optional 1-cent sales taxes from 1988 and 2006.
That money, a total of about $2.9 million including $670,000 in interest income on that amount, was set aside for county projects funded by the 1-cent sales taxes, Opella said.
But Natrona County has not had many such projects, he said.
So Opella proposed the consolidation so the county could receive a better interest rate than now on the separate funds.
The resolution, which will be considered after a public hearing, would require the county to use only the interest income for maintaining all county buildings, and leave the principal alone, he said. “Otherwise it becomes a big slush fund, and the taxpayers don’t want that.”
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