Discussions continue about the percentage split of any payment in lieu of taxes submitted by a wind farm development entity in northern Lincoln County.
In a unanimous vote on a motion by County Commissioner Tom Stewart last month, the commission decided to end negotiations with representatives from the Corona School District and to stick with a three-phase percentage division of payments in lieu of taxes from Clean Line Energy Partners for a wind turbine project. Some Clean Line projects subsequently were purchase by Pattern Development, but no matter who heads the Mesa Canyons Wind Project, commissioners are considering the issuance of industrial bonds that would opt for PILOT instead of regular property taxes.
Corona school officials argued at the commission’s May meeting for a division of payments more heavily weighted in the district’s favor, because of the direct impacts of the project. And before the session ended, the superintendent of the Carrizozo School District also pitched for a future portion, because some proposed wind turbines will be installed within that district.
County Manager Nita Taylor said last week the schedule adopted is the county’s proposal, to which the Corona school district has not agreed. Discussions are not over, she said. Nothing is final until an ordinance is adopted, a step also necessary if commissioners move to issue industrial bonds for the project.
“And now the Carrizozo schools have identified some turbines that will be situated in their district,” Taylor said. “Tom’s motion didn’t have that in it. Nothing is final.”
Under the schedule included in the motion, instead of collecting property taxes, the county and district would split the first PILOT 50-50 percent, bringing an estimated $400,000 annually to each in Phase 1. In Phase 2, the payment in lieu of taxes would increase for the county to 70 percent, with 30 percent going to the district. In terms of dollars that would amount to about $568,750 to the county and $243,750 to the school district. In Phase 3, payments would allow both the school district and the county to receive 74 percent of the potential revenue that would have come to them from property taxes, about $1,071,250 for the county and $116,250 for the school district.
In August 2017, commissioners approved Clean Line Energy Partners LLC’s application for a wind energy conversion system site permit to begin activities related to the Mesa Canyons Wind Project, which is to include up to 1,000 megawatts of wind facilities located in Lincoln County. In February 2018, commissioners approved a resolution in accordance with New Mexico’s County Industrial Revenue Bond Act, which expressed the county’s intent to consider the issuance of industrial revenue bonds to “induce Clean Line Energy Partners LLC to develop, construct and install” its wind farm in the county.
The resolution doesn’t commit the county and officials have been working with Clean Line to determine the proper level of total payments the county and the schools for Mesa Canyon, which will be within the county in the Corona area. Clean line proposed to construction over three-phase timeline with the PILOT to be calculated on a per megawatt basis.
Corona School Board President and Town Clerk Terri Racher and school superintendent Travis Lightfoot contended factors other than tax base should be considered when determining the split, such as increased traffic and the impacts of living with the turbines.
Steve Elliott, president of the Corona Landowners Association said the group has been working on the South Mesa Canyon project for 11 years and have “put in thousands of hours to come to this point.”
The move is important to the town of Corona, and an agreement on payment split must be reached for the project to advance, he said. Without the wind farm, the town could die.
“This project will produce millions for Lincoln County outside of Corona,” he said. “I want to see Corona get its fair share.”
Stewart said that to him the county’s proposal to base distribution on taxable value is fair.
“You’re talking about Corona receiving $400,000 the first two years,” he said.
Commissioner Elaine Allen agreed with Stewart, saying, “When you get to the end of 30 years, that will be $21 million to Corona. These projects are set for 30 years, because seemingly that’s how long (the turbines) last, but they could come along with something else in meantime. This isn’t the only chance Corona has. Other projects are in the pipeline for things to be built there.
“I recognized that you did the work there, but others in other parts of the county do work for the county. That’s a lot of money. I’m not saying the community doesn’t deserve it, but like (Stewart), I’m trying to find equity.”
“We’re all very concerned about this and trying to get it right, especially since we’ll hear from Carrizozo when is it their turn,” Commissioner Dallas Draper said. “These projects could impact different school districts. We want to be aware of future impacts.”
Commissioner Lynn Willard said over his 40 years in the county, he’s worked hard for economic development and the argument that the community should benefit because of the effort it expended to bring in the turbines “doesn’t play with me.”
“I worked my tail off and haven’t asked for more than, ‘let it happen,’” he said, adding that while serving on the Ruidoso School Board he fought for every school district in the county. One district shouldn’t be pitted against another, he said.
Commission Chairman Preston Stone said he has roots in the northern part of the county and he’s seen landowners lose out on financial opportunities by inches on a land survey. He commended the landowners group for organizing and “doing it right.”
The perception that commissioners are against the education of children in the Corona school system is wrong, he said, “but we have to make decisions in the best interests of the entire county. I understand your perspective of why should you share when you brought it here. But in near future, this commission is going to have two other school systems that we are going to have to consider too. We need the same precedent for all.”
The next regular commission meeting is at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday. in the commission chambers of the county courthouse in Carrizozo.
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