Additional funding for schools and emergency services lie in the balance of a legal dispute between a St. Louis-based wind company and DeKalb County.
Touted as an innovation when it began, Lost Creek wind farm and its owners, Wind Capital Group, have entered into a legal battle with DeKalb County, wanting to pay about half of its assessed property taxes.
The dispute began in August, when Lost Creek turned down an assessment made by county assessor Ruth Ross, giving each of the wind farm’s 99 towers a market value of $930,100 and an assessed value, or 32 percent of the total, of $297,630.
“They’re disputing that, saying it’s grossly overvalued,” Ms. Ross said.
Losing an appeal with the DeKalb County Board of Equalization, Lost Creek appealed to the Missouri Tax Commission on Sept. 30, stating the towers have a true market value of $445,727 and an assessed value of $142,633.
Despite being legally required to pay the approximate $1 million by Dec. 31, the property tax money paid by Lost Creek will end up in an escrow account until the commission makes a decision.
The legal wrangling is troubling for county officials for several reasons, the main one being they assessed the towers using the same formula as other wind farms in Northwest Missouri, including Gentry, Nodaway and Atchison counties.
“The formula that has been used by other counties and which I used, is a formula that was developed by an assessor and the then-CEO of Wind Capital Group,” Ms. Ross said.
Expected to lose the most in the struggle are schools such as the Union Star R-II School District and King City R-I School District, as well as local fire and ambulance districts, which may not see the money they expected to be generated from the property taxes.
“Our current school is doing fine, but … here’s a big business that’s not going to pay their taxes. Schools rely on tax dollars,” Chris Turpin, principal at Union Star Elementary School, said.
To clarify, DeKalb County Clerk Melissa Meek said it’s not necessarily the case of a company not wanting to pay any taxes, but significantly less money.
“In the scheme of things, they want to pay. But it’s such a minute amount to what they’re paying in the other counties,” she said.
Mr. Turpin criticized the move, saying the company was aided with $107 million in stimulus money and now refuses to pay the gesture forward by supporting the community.
“It’s kind of ironic that what was seen to be a kind of good taxpaying asset is almost becoming a liability,” State Rep. Glen Klippenstein, R-Maysville, said.
Looking back, some see the wind farms as the blessing that became a curse.
In its inception, the project landed on the White House’s list of “100 Recovery Act Projects Changing America.” In a visit to Missouri by Vice President Joe Biden in 2009, he touted the Lost Creek wind farm as an innovation and commended Wind Capital founder Tom Carnahan for creating it.
Ms. Ross said she can’t answer why the company would refuse to pay the same amount of taxes in DeKalb that they are in other areas.
“There have been discussions since they started, of sorts, regarding the value of them and what formula is going to be utilized for market value,” she said.
Wind Capital won’t comment either, sending the News-Press a copy of the court file and a short statement saying the company reserves comment as the matter is being appealed.
Mr. Turpin said the commission’s decision will mark a state precedent for a relatively new form of property.
“(If they get) a judgment for a lower amount in DeKalb County, what would keep them from going to the other three counties and saying ‘Now a precedent has been set by the state tax commission. You guys, what we’re currently paying you … We want it reduced,’” he said.
Ms. Ross said she’s only looking out for the county.
“I’m just trying to see that residents are treated in a fair and equitable manner,” she said.
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