Editor’s note: This is an open letter to the Gray County Commissioners Court.
I am very disappointed in your decision to award the tax abatement to Cielo Land Cattle, LP. Your decision to do so is a slap in the face to all businesses and land owners in Gray County. In your decision you have chosen to continue to place the tax burden on our local businesses and landowners who directly contributed to our community and give a pass to an entity that will provide minimal economic benefit to the community. The tax abatement to Cielo is taking money from the taxpayers and putting it in the hands of outsiders.
You all know, and the fact has been confirmed by Mr. Richard Pena of Cielo, that Cielo also is receiving federal subsidies to construct this project. Without federal subsides and tax abatements, Mr. Pena said the project is not feasible and cannot stand on its own merits. So that means we are not only giving them a pass in the county by not taxing them at 100 percent of market value but we also get to help pay for the construction of a project with our federal income taxes and increase electric rate that will bring minimal economic benefits to us locally. If the project is not feasible to build without federal subsidies and county tax abatements, why do you think it will make it when the help stops?
In the public discussion meeting regarding this project, I spoke and later spoke personally to three commissioners, Joe Wheeley, Gary Willoughby and Jeff Haley, to expand my thoughts. In the course of these conversations some interesting points were brought to mind.
Mr. Wheeley expressed that he and several others he knew were interested in the wind turbines because they want to collect lease payments and royalties from the electricity produced from the turbines on their land. This brings up a point. I believe it is a conflict of interest for any commissioner that has a vested interested in promoting wind energy by having personal land leased to a wind energy company, be involved in any discussion, and more importantly, vote on any decision regarding wind energy.
At this point I asked Mr. Wheeley if he had ever been up close to a wind farm and he answered he had not. I suggested he do so to get a firsthand look. A group of turbines sound like you are in the middle of some jet engines. And when you look around the area, it is devoid of wildlife. So “green energy” comes at the price of ridding the countryside of all wildlife? Wind turbines are monstrous and detrimental to all migratory bird migration routes and habits.
Mr. Wheeley brought up the oilfield and how the major oil companies came in and drilled, sold out to small operators and left without being responsible for cleanup.
I expressed that is what the companies are doing. Many wind farms across the country are being sold while they are marketable commodities and leaving their obligation to some else. The very next day front-page headlines in the Amarillo paper confirmed this statement by reporting that a subsidized “foreign” company had just purchased its third wind farm in the Panhandle of Texas. The third wind farm under construction is in western Carson County. A tank battery is a lot easier to clean up than a wind turbine.
I discussed with Mr. Wheeley how the wind farms provide very little economic impact during construction or permanent jobs. The construction is provided by crews brought in from other areas familiar with this type of construction so the county receives minimal immediate economic benefits.
Mr. Wheeley agreed and we discussed how local businesses are the life blood to the county. Local businesses and landowners pump millions of dollars directly and indirectly into our community and schools. Local businesses and landowners are the life blood of the county and keep our community alive.
My conversation with Mr. Willoughby was somewhat different. I began by saying that I hoped that I got my message across and he replied he completely understood. Mr. Willoughby also has land leased to a wind energy company. Mr. Willoughby expressed his discontent for them and that he had been lied to and deceived in his dealings and would not cut the wind energy companies any slack.
Mr. Willoughby said he completely understands how the local businesses are the financial backbone of our county and that we should all be playing on a level playing field. Funny how opinions change.
Every year oil and gas companies are forced to pay higher and higher ad valorem taxes. The taxes on these leases range from five and as high as nine year payouts of appraised value. Operators have to operate these leases without any interruption or work over to generate three and sometimes four months’ revenue just to pay for their higher ad valorem taxes. This does not even include state and federal taxes. This stems from our county government having to generate more revenue because they cannot control their expenses.
It was reported in the paper a commissioner made the statement that our tax base in the oil field in Gray County is expanding. The truth is the appraised value of the properties is increasing and creating more tax revenue and more of a hardship for county operators. The County field is old and depleting and not expanding. We do need to expand our tax base but not give out discounts at the cost of placing the burden on locals. Before long the cost to operate these leases along with the increases in ad valorem taxes will make the leases unaffordable to operate. What will that do to our tax base?
Agricultural land value is also going through the roof, driving up the ad valorem taxes on all agriculture property. The appraised values have increased to the point where it became very difficult to operate farm and ranch land and make it profitable. At present-day land prices one cannot afford to buy land and try to make a living off it. Ranch land is being purchased for recreation and as an investment hedge against inflation, driving up the cost.
Wind energy is part of the “green” agenda. Like it or not, it is upon us. If wind energy is the future, it should be as any private sector business and be able to stand on its own merits. Wind energy companies should negotiate in good faith with landowners, develop their projects and pay their fair share of all taxes to support our county.
Judge Richard Peet made the comment we need to look toward the future. The future should not be taxing our local businesses out of business. Our future is to encourage and promote businesses that are economically stable to share our burden. The future is taxing all equally and creating a level playing field and not looking a few years down the road to add a depreciated asset to the tax rolls in which we don’t even benefit from the electricity produced. The future is living within our means and taking care of the Gray County residents and not selling us out.
We need to remember that Gray County is funded by the property owners and the taxpayers pay for all county salaries and services.
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