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Wind farm windfall elicits note of caution

It’s tough to resist temptation, as the Woodford County Board demonstrated to a degree Tuesday night.

A one-time payment of about $2.4 million related to the wind-energy development under construction near Minonk appears to put the county’s 2013 budget well into the black. But Tom Janssen, chairman of the board’s finance committee, is cautioning against irrational exuberance regarding that windfall.

“If you start throwing in extras all at once, it goes away pretty fast,” Janssen said following the board’s regular meeting.

“There’s people who if they’ve got a dollar, they spend it. And there’s people who save up for a rainy day. I’m a saver, and there are other people that are spenders.”

The wind farm money lifts projected revenues for the next fiscal year, which begins Dec. 1, to about $9.7 million, according to Janssen. Expenses are projected at about $7.8 million.

But without the extra cash, the county would be running a deficit of about $200,000. That isn’t bad compared to previous years, where shortfalls resulted in budget cuts and hiring freezes.

“We’ll probably be close to breaking even,” Janssen said.

At this rate, the wind-farm money could be used to cover projected deficits for the next 10 years, according to Janssen. But board members authorized about $200,000 in additional expenses Tuesday night.

About half of that was for the probation department, to be used in connection with juvenile crime cases. Other additions included cash to purchase a county-owned vehicle, for use by multiple departments.

During its next meeting, likely to take place Nov. 15, the finance committee is expected to massage the numbers generated Tuesday and synthesize public input. If all goes according to plan, the budget will be ready for a final vote during the regular board meeting set for Nov. 20.

Janssen doesn’t anticipate a change in the general property tax levy. The amount levied last year was about $1.8 million, he said.

By a 7-7 vote, the board also failed to approve a zoning change for a 3.38-acre land parcel in Worth Township, on Old Germantown Road between Schmitt Lane and Marchand Lane. The owners wanted zoning changed from residential, like surrounding land, to agricultural to accommodate a single-family dwelling and horse farm.

The county plan is to maintain residential zoning in that area, opponents of the change said.

“The precedent that would be set by doing this is a pretty scary thing,” board member Larry Whitaker said. “We developed this plan. We’ve got to be consistent with our execution.”