Grant County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the issuance of $400 million in Industrial Revenue Bonds for the Great Divide Wind Farm project in the southern tail of Grant County, just three days after the Silver Consolidated Schools Board of Education offered their approval. The votes clear the way for what is essentially a tax break for the green energy project.
“It’s almost identical to some of the wind farm projects that we’ve seen installed, mostly on the eastern side of the state,” said Luis Carrasco of the Rodey Law Firm, which serves as the county’s bond counsel. “In essence, the county is not making any obligation beyond its commitment today to have these bonds issued in its name for the benefit of the company. The company will lease the project to the county, who will then own it in its own name, and then lease, pursuant to the lease agreement, that project back out to the company.”
Carrasco noted that the deal strictly limited the county’s liability for the project.
“The rent that the company pays in exchange for that lease is what secures the debt service on the bonds that are issued, and those are the only revenues that are available for payment on that bond service,” he said. “If there were a default, there’s no recourse back to the general funds of the county, you’re not making any type of indemnification – you’re just issuing these bonds for the benefit of the project property.
“This is just a clever way that the Legislature has come up [with] to enable counties and municipalities to structure these type of tax deals to promote economic development within its county without committing any public funds directly to those projects. To a member of the public, it might look like the county is proposing to adopt a half a billion dollars, to give that money to a private entity. That just looks like that on paper – that’s not how this project is actually structured.”
District 5 Commissioner Alicia Edwards clarified.
“Essentially, this ‘clever instrument,’ as you called it, the purpose of it is for the company to avoid paying property taxes, and instead of that, they’re paying the PILOT payment,” she said.
Carrasco went on to add that the deal would also shelter parts of the construction from gross receipts tax as well.
Under public input, county resident James Baldwin thanked county road superintendent Earl Moore for the “superb” resurfacing of Cottage San Road, comparing it favorably to U.S. 180 and the interstate. He also spoke about a recent experience at Gila Regional Medical Center, asking that the hospital make an effort to hire more Grant County natives. He also questioned the number of law enforcement personnel needed to accompany undocumented aliens while they were being treated at Gila Regional, and the hospital’s plans to replace doctors who will leave the area in the near future.
Glenn Griffin updated commissioners on his investigation into the county’s wildlife services contract, saying that the part-time job funded by the contract paid more than double what was being paid to county sheriff’s deputies. He also complained that the company had not responded to his requests for further information, proposing that the county pay ranchers directly for services. Griffin also noted that invoices submitted to the county did not document the number of hours worked under the agreement.
The county voted to approve lease agreements with Hidalgo Medical Services for the senior centers in both Mimbres and Gila. They also approved a maintenance agreement with the state Department of Transportation for maintenance of recreational off-highway vehicle route signage.
Commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution to apply for Federal Lands Access Program funds, which would fund improvements to Little Walnut Road from the Silver City town limit to Little Walnut campground – including accommodations for hikers and bicyclists. The project would provide a direct connection from the Continental Divide Trail to Silver City itself.
“This is awesome,” Edwards said, in making the motion.
The application is being coordinated with Silver City’s Town Council, which would see compatible improvements to the road within the town’s limits.
Commissioners recognized outgoing Sheriff Raul Villanueva, Commissioners Gabe Ramos and Brett Kasten and Probate Judge Velia Miranda. Ramos spoke about his years of service to the county, from his tenure on the Cobre school board to his past leadership positions in Hurley.
“I definitely would just like to say thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as a commissioner for the past eight years,” Ramos said. “It’s made me a more humble person, and I’ve realized what politics is all about – sometimes good, sometimes bad.”
Villanueva said, “I will be leaving Grant County after 23 years of service – nine years in the capacity as the sheriff – and I want to thank everybody for allowing me that opportunity.”
Kasten said, “I have the utmost confidence that you guys will be great. I know that’s going to happen.” Kasten went on to recognize his fellow commissioners, past and present, as well as a number of county staffers and other elected officials.
During her comments, Commissioner Edwards turned the recognition back on Kasten himself, recognizing an accomplishment watchers of county politics had long believed to be impossible – the unanimous 2015 vote of the then-three member commission necessary to expand the board to five members. At the time, Kasten served as the board’s chairman.
“Meaningful systemic change is very difficult to create in politics, mostly because change happens so slowly,” Edwards said. “Commissioner Kasten’s stated and accomplished goal of making a five-member commission happen was meaningful systemic change. It’s what made the diversity of thinking you see up here today possible, and is what will continue to ensure our county’s success in the future. Commissioner Kasten’s leadership on creating a five-member commission was a historic accomplishment.”
The commission will meet one final time in 2018 – in a special meeting at 2 p.m. Dec. 28 to consider a second amendment to the joint powers agreement for the New Mexico CAP Entity.