Cooke County Commissioners unanimously approved at Thursday’s special meeting a tax abatement package for OWN Energy to build a wind generator farm in the Muenster area.
County Judge Jason Brinkley and commissioners Gary Hollowell, B.C. Lemons and Al Smith voted for the abatement. Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Klement recused himself from the vote.
The court approved a 20 percent abatement with the provision that if the project depreciates the county will not be on the hook for the abatement.
Residents packed the courtroom as in previous sessions during which the abatement was discussed. Several individuals addressed the court during a public hearing held prior to the vote.
Included in the public hearing were remarks from landowner Doyle Klement who said he opposes the project based on his own observations about the generators. Klement said he feels a deep connection to his family farm and hates to think his peaceful grazing land will be changed by the presence of generators very near his property.
“I am not against wind energy,” he said. “I just don’t think you should give them the abatement they ask for.”
Cooke County resident Ken Arterbury said he has a problem with businesses who seek tax incentives to help their companies thrive.
“I’m pro-business,” Arterbury said. In 30-plus years of operating his own businesses, Arterbury said, “When I needed to do something, I went to the bank, borrowed the money and then I paid it back…If these guys want to make money, let them do it on their own.”
Arterbury also said he has doubts about the number of local jobs and the amount of revenue the project will generate for Cooke County.
OWN Energy senior development manager Nathan Vajdos addressed some of the residents concerns, acknowledging wind energy has become “highly politicized.”
He also pointed out rural residents have long benefited from assistance programs including electric cooperatives.
Several residents spoke in favor of the abatement including Cooke County Economic Development Corporation executive director Arleene Loyd.
Citing her experiences with wind generator companies in west Texas, Loyd said wind energy is good for communities and wind energy professionals are “great community partners.”
Thursday’s agenda also included discussion of a resolution in support of a proposed state bill clarifying the duties of the Cooke County Judge.
Judge Jason Brinkley said the bill would help make clear the duties of the county judge to act as a magistrate.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Al Smith said he has questions about the propriety of a county judge tying magistrate duties to the county’s budget office.
“That’s too much power to give to one budgetary officer of the county,” Smith said, adding he believes the magistrate duties should be limited to DUI responsibility.
Brinkley noted county judges and city mayors are all magistrates.
“This is not granting me any additional power,” he said.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Klement said he received an email message about the proposed state bill last Friday and was surprised the issue of the county judge’s magistrate duties wasn’t settled at the county level.
“We need to do our local business here at home,” he said.
Cooke County District Attorney Janice Warder and Cooke County Attorney Ed Zielinski both weighed in on the proposed bill.
Warder note the county judge’s magistrate duties would not include evidentiary search warrants and would help ensure DUI offenders are successfully prosecuted.
Zielinski said his concern is making sure he can sucessfully prosecute cases.
“I’ve got to limit the problems I’m going to have at trial and ensure the evidence I have is going to be good,” he said.
The court approved the resolution in support of the proposed bill by a vote of 3 to 2.
The court also approved authorization for the Cooke County Sheriff Office and the Cooke County District Attorney to sign a memorandum of understanding for an application for the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) grant. The grant is designed to help reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. North Central Texas College applied for the grant.
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