The Teton County commissioners, meeting July 2, denied requests from two businesses for a 10-year, phased-out property tax abatement, citing the county’s need for every business to pay its full share of local property taxes.
The commissioners voted unanimously to deny a property-tax abatement request from Crop Nutrients L.L.C. at Collins and voted, 2-1, with Joe Dellwo dissenting, to deny a request from Greenfield Wind, L.L.C., a company owned by Martin Wilde of Fairfield and Dave Healow of Billings.
D.K. Brooks, superintendent of Dutton-Brady Schools, attended the meeting and, representing his school board, said, “We are in opposition to the proposal.”
Brooks said the state Legislature for the past two years has underfunded public education and the school district needs every penny of property-taxes that it can collect to try and maintain existing services. As it is, he said, the school board may have to increase permissive (non-voted) levies to meet all of its budget requirements.
Commissioner Ron Ostberg said that the county during a two-week public hearing process received a total of 24 comments on the abatement request, of which three were in favor and 21 were opposed.
Commissioner Chairman Jim Hodgskiss asked for public comment one last time, and hearing none, closed the public hearing. The board then voted, 3-0, to deny the request.
The Crop Nutrients bulk fertilizer plant is a joint venture between Mountain View Cooperative and CHS Crop Nutrients. The $10 million facility was completed in September 2013 and now is in full operation.
According to the Montana Department of Revenue, without the property-tax abatement Crop Nutrients will pay $1,086,711 in local property taxes – to the county and local school districts – over 10 years.
If the county had granted the abatement, the company would pay $767,631 over 10 years for a savings of $319,080 over a decade.
Under the state rules for this tax abatement, if approved, the company would pay 50 percent of its total local property-tax bill for the first five years, and then, the total amount owned would be increased 10 percent a year, until at the end of 10 years, the company would be paying its full share.
The abatement applies only to local property taxes, not state other state taxes or state-level property taxes.
The other abatement request from Greenfield Wind L.L.C. was requested by Fairfield wind-power developer Marty Wilde, who attended the July 2 meeting to speak on behalf of the tax-abatement request.
Greenfield Wind is proposing to build a 12- to 14-tower wind project, an expansion of the existing six-tower Fairfield Wind development between Choteau and Fairfield.
According to the Department of Revenue, without the tax abatement, the company will pay about $6,502,5201 in local property taxes over a decade. With the abatement, the company would pay about $4,553,019 in local taxes for a savings of $1,949,501 over a decade.
Wilde said that the Greenfield Wind development is still in the planning stages without any ground being broken. He said he is still seeking a power purchase agreement with NorthWestern Energy and has appeals pending before the Public Service Commission related to the project.
Wilde, who described himself as a wind-energy development specialist with 20 years of experience, said the new project would be the limit of what could be built in Teton County without access to a larger transmission line.
He said he was requesting the property-tax abatement as part of a finance package that is yet to be assembled. He said the tax abatement is needed because the economic margin for wind development in this area is very slim.
He noted that the prices being offered for wind energy have come down almost 30 percent since he started Fairfield Wind in 2010. NorthWestern Energy has offered him $30 per megawatt of power, he said, but he can’t build the facility for that.
The project would provide short-term construction jobs in the county and long-term property tax payments over the 25-year life of the wind farm.
“Without this tax abatement, it would be very challenging to do the project. With the tax abatement, we do the project,” Wilde said.
Wilde also noted that while the company is fully owned by two Montana men at this point, that he would likely seek investors from out-of-state companies to finance the construction of the plant.
Choteau retiree Curly Anderson spoke against the tax abatement, saying the technology for today’s wind towers will be obsolete in 10 to 15 years. “I’m against supporting these. I’m really against wind power. I don’t like it,” he said, adding that companies that choose to do business here should pay the same taxes everyone else does.
Pete Howard, the county justice of the peace, attending the meeting also spoke against the tax abatement, saying that it is unfair to regular taxpayers like homeowners and farmers and ranchers who wouldn’t qualify for the abatement under the narrowly-written state law.
Ostberg said he tallied 25 total comments on the abatement request with 22 opposed and three in favor.
After no more comments were received, Hodgskiss closed the public hearing and the board voted, 2-1, to deny the request.
Hodgskiss then opened a new public hearing, that will remain open through July 17, to take comment the commissioners’ proposal to ask voters in November to approve changing county elected officials from partisan to non-partisan offices.
Presently, candidates for commissioner, treasurer, clerk of court, clerk and recorder, sheriff/coroner, county attorney, public administrator, and superintendent of public schools must declare a political party to seek election. The commissioners are proposing to eliminate the need for a party designation.
Hodgskiss said 15 or 16 counties in the state have already made this change and feedback from several of those contacted has been positive for the change.
Clerk and Recorder Paula Jaconetty said she heard from about 50 voters in this year’s primary who were unhappy that they had to vote on either the Democrat or Republican ballot and who said they did not want to choose their county officials based on a political party.
Ostberg said the Montana Association of Counties supports the change.
Hodgskiss said he is a “RINO” – a Republican In Name Only and Ostberg and Dellwo are DINOs – Democrats In Name Only. “Our basic philosophy is really closely aligned,” he said.
Howard said in his experience as a partisan candidate for sheriff and a nonpartisan candidate as judge, the candidate has to get out and work to get elected regardless of party affiliation. Further, he said, the tasks and duties of each elected official are laid out by state law and are largely unaffected by party politics.
Ostberg encouraged members of the public to give input on the proposal. People can call the commissioners at 466-2151, can send them letters to P.O. Box 610, Choteau, MT 59422, can send email to Hodgskiss at email@example.com or can attend the public hearing on July 17 at 10 a.m.
Ostberg said that if the commissioners were to formally approve the proposal it would go before voters in the November general election.
In other action, the commissioners:
•Approved a resolution setting annual salaries for elected officials for the July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015, fiscal year as follows: Clerk of District Court and treasurer, $42,979.31; clerk and recorder, $42,979.31 base salary, plus $2,000 for the election administration duties and $1,200 for surveyor duties, for a total of $46,179.31; county commissioners, $40,681.38, plus per diem and mileage for trips actually made; $102,135.50 for the county attorney of which the state will reimburse the county for $63,905; county sheriff/coroner, $55,969.31; superintendent of schools, $39,081.38; and justice of the peace, $37,392 up to Jan. 1, 2015, and thereafter, $32,234.49. The increase in the base salary reflects a 1.5 percent cost of living increase, recommended by the county salary compensation board.
•Granted a road encroachment permit to Chase Brady for Sixth Road Northeast to extend an existing approach into a field for use in moving equipment. County Road Foreman Darrin Johnson also reviewed the application and recommended approval.
•Listened to a presentation by Erin Swiader, the ID team leader for the Forest Plan revision process on the Helena and Lewis and Clark National forests. Swiader, accompanied by Rocky Mountain Front District Ranger Mike Munoz, told the commissioners that the team is at the very beginning of a five-year process to revise the plan and will be seeking more specific input from the commissioners as the process moves forward.
•Approved accepting additional grant funding from the state for the Health Department in the amount of $2,172.50 for immunization services, $1,933.70 for the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) nutrition program, $173,400 for tobacco-use prevention efforts in five-county region, a Maternal Child Health block grant in an unspecified amount.
•Approved accepting a grant from the Montana State Library to provide training for County Planner Paul Wick on using map-making software and hardware funded through the Montana Land Information Act. The budget for the training is $14,852 with $1,500 coming from Teton County and the balance from the grant. Wick said this technology is used for many different purposes, including maintaining the county’s enhanced 9-1-1 emergency system.
•Approved several year-end budget amendments, transferring funds from several different accounts to make sure that no county budget ends the fiscal year, June 30, in the red.
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