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County will fight for wind turbine tax values

BAD AXE – The Huron County Board of Commissioners has voted in favor of a resolution to share legal costs related to wind turbine tax value determinations.

The disagreement is with Michigan’s State Tax Commission, which voted last fall to lower the taxable value of wind turbines.

The resolution, which passed 6-1, is expected to be signed by wind turbine-heavy Sanilac, Gratiot, Mason and Tuscola counties, formalizing what would be known as the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative. The counties want to assess wind turbines at a value higher than what the state tax commission recommended last fall.

The agreement would split 50 percent of legal costs equally among the counties, with the other 50 percent being split up based on the number of wind turbines.

County attorney Stephen Allen said that he couldn’t imagine any of the counties not signing on.

“As far as I’m concerned this is an example of good government, where you’ve got a number of governmental entities sharing in the expense to pursue something that will benefit all,” Allen said.

Legal battles would be handled by the law firm of Clark Hill, which would charge the rate of $260 per hour. Allen said their regular rates can run higher than $500 per hour.

The firm is currently handling a case related to wind turbine tax value determinations in Gratiot County (Detroit Edison Co. v Wheeler Township – Tax Appeals).

Commissioner John Nugent was the dissenting vote.

“I was always taught never to get yourself into something you can’t get yourself out of,” Nugent said before reading off part of the then proposed agreement. “… This has no end date on it, and it has no end of the amount of money that would be spent in fighting this trending multiplier table.”

Commissioner David Peruski was one of several board members who thought an escape clause might give the other side an advantage.

“Normally, I would look for an escape clause, but (not) in this particular case. … If there’s any possibility that the opposition feels that simply stonewalling, and stalling, and waiting that it would go away, than the effort would be useless,” Peruski said. “So, I think it’s something that we have to take from beginning to end, with a full commitment to go forward. … If you don’t make that commitment to take them to the end, you’re simply wasting time. … We’ll exhaust our effort, and I think we’re guaranteed a loss.”

Commissioner Ron Wruble suggested that it might not be a strong enough action.

“… If this board would slow down, or put the breaks on any more development in this county, the tax issue would be settled a lot quicker than it’s going to be now,” Wruble said. “… We went into this situation under one understanding, and things are constantly eroding, one thing after another. I believe that while we have leverage, while we have a little say, that needs to be done.”

Wruble requested that Chairman Clark Elftman take a poll of whether or not the commissioners would support a moratorium on wind turbine projects.

Commissioner John Horny said he would vote for a moratorium if it started after the new year.

Commissioner John Bodis said he was frustrated with the tax commission, but that he’d hate for all of the wind turbine projects to be held up.

Peruski said they needed to send a message in order to speed up the process of coming to an agreement on taxes.

Commissioner Steve Vaughan said that the situation needed to get settled, but that he didn’t want to ruin the relationships he had developed with wind developers.

Nugent said that he was “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.” He said that he could see a moratorium being effective in coming to an agreement quicker, but that wind developers might end up trying to retrieve money lost.