The Howard County Council voted on Tuesday to award most Howard County employees a bonus payable in July. Councilman Jim Papacek said the county has $10 million dollars in the general fund and the cost of the 2013 bonus award will only be $450,000. Seems reasonable to me.
But wait, Commissioner Paul Wyman, the self-appointed spokesman for Howard County government, says not so fast Mr. Papacek. Wyman is concerned about giving county government employees $450,000 because of diminishing income versus expenditures.
This is where my business background starts to generate questions about both Wyman and Papacek’s statements. Where is the financial forecast that all county government decisions should be based? Where is the financial forecast for income? Where is the financial forecast for expenditures? What does the five-year capital plan consist of, and how much will it cost? What is the cost of miscellaneous items?
These are only a few of the financial tools needed to base a budget. Most times, the forecasts are just that, forecasts. But forecasts generate a certain amount of confidence that such a thing as an $800 bonus for employees is possible. What recommendations is the budget office of county government offering?
Developing a working budget is not rocket science, but Howard County government seems to lurch from one crisis to another. Wyman could be right when he has a concern of future financial shortfalls, and Papacek could also be right about affordability of a 2013 employee bonus. However, in this instance I think Wyman is right.
Wyman is basing his concerns of awarding a bonus on future negative financial possibilities, and Papacek is using “it just feels good.” Until there is data showing healthy financial forecasts, county government should be very careful how tax money is spent. A $10 million general fund can rapidly disappear with diminishing income.
The wind farm issue has the attention of Howard County government, or should I say it’s a dead issue because of a signed contract which is legal and binding. The Howard County Council has itself between a rock and a hard place. There is a signed agreement between Howard County government and Wildcat Wind Farm developers for placement of 124 turbines in Grant and Howard County.
The basic problem for Howard County government is the fact that the populace is more educated to the ramifications of having a turbine in close proximity to landowners who have no dog in this hunt. The only benefactors are the land owners who have sold leases to the wind farm developers. Why are these land contracts so secretive?
The farmers who are participating in the wind farm programs are being paid with taxpayer dollars in the form of heavy government subsidies. Why shouldn’t the contracts be open for the individual taxpayer’s examination?
But what really bothers me about wind and solar power installations is this. We don’t need them. It still amazes me the number of people who believe wind energy is free. Wind power is one of the heaviest subsidized forms of energy generated in this country and around the world. Spain is ending subsidies for their wind industry. The end of subsidies could drive Spanish wind energy companies into default.
The other issue driving peripheral land owners nuts is diminishing land values. This concern is real. Siemens of Germany, one of the powerhouses in wind farm development has since 1991 developed 18 wind farms in and around Europe, mostly around. Thirteen of the 19 wind farms are located offshore where there is no population. Wonder why Siemens chose the waters of Europe for the majority of their wind farm developments? The answer is obvious.
An article written by Patrick Jenevein, CEO of Dallas-based Tang Energy Group, a wind power company, in the April 2 Wall Street Journal said, “Through May 2012, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the government has spent $8.4 billion on cash grants for wind farms.” These were direct taxpayer dollars to wind farm developers who pass a portion through to farmers.
The American taxpayer is the piggy bank for yet another subsidy for the American farmer. It seems farm subsidies never go away, but in the case of wind power subsidies, continuation of payments is doubtful.
Mr. Jenevein says that wind power prices have increased to an average of $54 per mega-watt hour, compared to $37 in 2005. He attributes this increase to government subsidies that have made the wind industry less focused on reducing costs. Without subsidies, the number of wind farms would diminish.
Howard County government has stated they were very well educated on all the shortcomings and benefits of wind power. That is debatable. But one thing is certain, come the next election Howard County voters should consider the qualifications of candidates more carefully. All county government elected officials are good people, but the employee bonus issue and the windmill contract indicate some have reached their level of incompetence.
I have personally visited the windmill farm in Tipton County. The windmills do remit a sound, and I am hard of hearing. The sound will become more pronounced as the bearings wear in the turbines. Whether the sound will be loud enough for neighbors to hear, I can’t determine. To me, as a man from the world of manufacturing, the sight of the turbines is not objectionable, but I presently don’t have one in my backyard. That’s a different story.
And anyone who says the presence of these giant turbines doesn’t affect property values is totally wrong. Just ask yourself this one question, would I buy a piece of property at any price in proximity to the giant turbines? There will be a few who will answer yes, but not many. For a real estate businessman or businesswoman to say there will be no negative impact on property values is disingenuous.
The windmill issue has become a wedge between segments of Howard County society. It is a shame a foreign company can come into a tight-knit community like Howard County, spend our money, take our money in the form of subsidies, and litter the landscape, while local politicians become enablers. What a sad commentary.
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