Greentown – A packed room of remonstrators Tuesday held little sway over the Eastern Howard Schools board, which voted unanimously to move ahead on a $2.75 million wind turbine project.
More than 60 residents showed up for the meeting, where they heard for the first time about the potential tax impact of the project.
According to information released at the meeting, the project is expected to add about 21 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to the property tax rate.
But because next year, the school district will finish paying off a series of renovations completed in the 1990s, Superintendent Tracy Caddell is expecting the property tax rate to remain level.
School officials are hoping the project will save the schools around $6.1 million over the expected 25-year life of the project.
Just paying off the bonds, however, is expected to cost upwards of $5.2 million.
The advantage for the schools is that the bonds will be repaid from property taxes, while the savings realized from the project will free up funding in the school’s general fund.
Caddell said he expects the savings achieved in the school’s operating budget “will buffer us from more state cuts,” but said he wasn’t in favor of the project simply because it will free up operating funds.
“The revenue stream is not as important to me personally,” he said. “What’s important to me is the K through 12 curriculum, and the fact we can begin to teach our kids about green energy.”
Farmers will feel the impact of the project most, according to the tax figures presented Tuesday.
A farm valued at $140,000 would see a gross annual tax impact of $301.42, while a homestead residence valued at $150,000 would see an impact of $144.79.
But school officials said both of those impacts will be lessened by the retirement of the old school debt, and by the fact the federal government is expected to pay 70 percent of the interest on the bonds.
Greentown residents Audrey Pollack and Susie Cox presented a petition to the board containing 90 signatures, and of more than a dozen people speaking at the 2 1/2-hour meeting, two spoke in favor of the project.
“When I go to purchase land, I look at location, location, location – I can fix anything in the house. And we’ve already seen a 30 percent drop in the home market,” Greentown resident Mark Bradford told the board.
Caddell said the project is expected to generate enough electricity to cover about 50 percent of the school district’s annual energy costs, which are currently running around $350,000 to $370,000 a year.
The school’s annual payment on the bonds for the project is expected to be somewhere between $383,000 and $590,000. The maximum length of the bond is 19 years, with the board discussing repayment within 15.
Caddell said the wind turbine project, which must still receive a variance from the Howard County Board of Zoning Appeals, is phase one of a multi-year energy project.
He said the schools must also find a way to pay for a major upgrade of the schools’ heating, ventilation and cooling systems.
He said the school board will begin to discuss those projects in the coming months, and said he hopes to be able to enter into energy-saving contracts to cover the cost of those projects.
Meanwhile, remonstrators Jeff and Susie Cox vowed they won’t quit fighting the project. They’ve set up a website, www.greentownwind.com, in opposition to the project.
“[Caddell] said he didn’t want to split the community apart, but that’s exactly what he’s done,” Jeff Cox said.
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