TIPTON – Debates over wind farm development in Tipton County have now shifted to how economic development funds collected from the developer of the Wildcat Wind Farm should be spent.
Representatives from Windfall, which covers Wildcat and Madison townships, argue the funds should largely stay within the areas where the Wildcat Wind Farm I was constructed, based on language in the county’s economic development agreement with E-ON, while Tipton County commissioners say those funds should be used throughout the county.
Windfall Town Council member Kevin Richards presented the commissioners with cost estimates for improvements the Windfall Town Council wants covered by the money E-ON paid the county for economic development, which is $900,000 to date.
Richards said the $315,000 in requests, which include the installation of residential water taps, fire hydrants, service for drain lines, road repairs, a stir pump for the town’s water tower and $200,000 toward a matching grant to repair the town’s sewers, are reasonable considering residents in Madison and Wildcat townships have been impacted the most by the project.
“We should get the lion’s share,” Richards said. “We’ve got [wind turbines] set three-quarters of a mile outside of town. If they wanted it for the county they shouldn’t have specified that the funds are for the development area.”
The economic development agreement states the county will receive $1.2 million in payments “as consideration for the anticipated restriction of certain other new commercial development and employment in portions of the Development Area as a consequence of the Project.”
E-ON was scheduled to make four separate payments of $300,000 to the county at the beginning of construction and the first and second anniversaries of construction commencement. A final $300,000 payment is scheduled on the project’s third anniversary in December.
The funds are deposited into a special account established by the Tipton County commissioners and appropriated by the Tipton County Council. Members of both the commission and council have formed a committee to determine what projects to fund.
“It doesn’t mean that the money has to be spent [in Windfall],” Commissioner Mike Cline said. “The economic development agreement is money being paid to the county for economic development projects that the commissioners deem appropriate. Those could be things like quality of life, business development … it’s not just money to be reinvested into that township.”
The agreement states the commissioners and council will decide whether projects are appropriate, but mentions “the construction, repair, or maintenance of infrastructure, the improvement of the park systems, economic development projects or other services provided in the County, or other purposes which improve the quality of life in the County and thereby foster economic development in the County” as examples.
Richards said those funds should stay in Wildcat and Madison townships because commercial development has been limited by the construction of 125 turbines in the two townships.
Windfall continues to pay down nearly $260,000 in debt, Richards said, and the economic development funds would help the town complete some much-needed projects.
“We’ve got that just about cut in half,” Richards said of Windfall’s debt. “We could use some of your help, guys. All of these things that I mentioned are important things that need to be done.”
Windfall is not the only entity within the county to request funds for economic development projects, Cline noted. Representatives from Tri Central Community Schools, Sharpsville and Kempton all have requested money. Funds may be appropriated by the county council at any time.
The county has spent $52,000 of the money to pay for an update to its comprehensive plan.
“We have every [township] saying they need money – you’ve heard Kempton needs the money, Sharpsville needs the money, Windfall needs the money,” commission president Phil Heron said. “We need to figure out the best way to benefit Tipton County as a whole. There are going to be some people disappointed when we do decide how to use it.”
Cline said commissioners must be diligent in making sure the needs of the entire county are met from an economic development standpoint.
“When the agreement was written, the purpose of the economic development payment was the fact that when you build a wind farm somewhere, you’re taking away future economic development possibilities,” he said. “So if you’re not going to develop [on the wind farm], you’re going to be able to use that money somewhere else in the county.”
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