Discussion at Monday’s Cass County Commissioners meeting on a proposed wind turbine project was more subdued than it has been in the past, but opponents remain just as critical.
Renewable Energy Systems Americas, or RES, out of Broomfield, Colorado, is pursuing bringing the turbines to northern Cass and Miami counties.
Paige Woodhouse, Royal Center, took issue at Monday’s meeting with a Feb. 14 Facebook post from IN for Wind, a page supporting the project. The post touted the money the project would bring to the county for teachers, paramedics and firefighters.
She went on to recall a conversation with Andy Robertson, a retired teacher from Clinton Central Jr.-Sr. High School in Clinton County, a county that has wind turbines. Woodhouse said Robertson told her about how local tax monies in Indiana can only be deposited into either the transportation fund, capital projects fund or rainy day fund while the state supplies teaching salaries to the general fund.
Brad Lila, development director for RES, said by phone Monday that the company and Cass County are negotiating an economic development agreement that will determine an amount of money RES will give the county. Unlike with tax funds, county officials wouldn’t be restricted on how the economic development funds from RES could be used, he continued.
The Cass County Council controls the county’s finances. George Stebbins, president of the council, said by phone Monday that he’d like to see RES’ economic development dollars to the county go toward infrastructure.
“I don’t want to see it used to grow government,” Stebbins said. “Because years down the road, if something changes and we don’t have the money coming in from it, I don’t want the county and the council to be in bad shape. Those are my concerns.”
Stebbins also said the economic development funds would likely not only be used in the areas that the wind turbines are in. He added property tax revenue from the turbines would stay in the areas they’re in, however. But that would depend on if and how much of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal comes out of the negotiations, he continued.
Kyle Reed, Royal Center, brought up property values at Monday’s meeting along with another Indiana county with wind turbines.
“All wind developers like to use Benton County as a poster boy for success,” he said. “If that’s true, then why is the median home value for Benton County only $75,500 and asking prices is only $58,900?”
Reed said he got his information from the online real estate database company Zillow, which he added indicates Cass County’s median home value is $175,000 with an average asking price of $200,400.
The U.S. Census Bureau listed Cass County’s median home value at $82,500 and Benton County’s at $81,500 in 2016.
It was later discovered that Reed had provided information from Zillow on Cass County, Missouri. Zillow lists Cass County, Indiana’s median home value at $82,000 with an average listing price of $75,000.
Benton County Assessor Kelly Balensiefer said by phone Monday that Benton County property values have always been low due to an abundance of agricultural land and little development compared to other counties. She added property sales prices have risen 2.5 percent since Benton County’s turbines went up and 16 new homes were built last year, the most since 2005.
James DeWitt, Royal Center, shared at Monday’s meeting a February 2017 letter published in the Tulsa World by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. In the letter, Keating expresses his regret over signing wind industry tax break legislation. The breaks will end up costing the state billions of dollars, Keating wrote.
Jacob Pomasl gave the commissioners letters in support of the project from Bill Percy of Macy, Ethan Pearson of Peru and Tracey Percy of Macy. Pomasl said the Miami County Commissioners also received the letters earlier on Monday. The Miami County residents wrote that they feel the turbine project will have a positive economic impact on the area.
Judy Kellems, Lucerne, spoke at Monday’s meeting as well.
“I know you guys are tired from hearing from us, but we’re tired of coming here too,” she told the commissioners. “We’re not naive enough to think that this is an energy issue for anyone. It’s a money issue for everyone.”
She went on to refer to Cass County’s 2.5 percent income tax rate – the eighth highest in the state. If the county needs money that bad, she suggested raising the rate a little more.
“I don’t think anybody would be against that,” she said.
Kellems added anyone can find research on the internet to fit their own agenda.
“This will be an eyesore that you can’t take back,” she told the commissioners of the wind turbine project. “This is a decision that you’re going to make that will follow us all to our graves and I would have a hard time living with myself if that were me that made that decision.”
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