County to use new wind money for roads

Published 11:00 am Thursday, June 16, 2016

County to use new wind money for roads

Some rural Mower County residents are about to see a longtime wish granted.

The Mower County board voted unanimously Tuesday to designate an estimated $330,000 to $500,000 a year in additional wind energy production money from the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm toward roads for 10 years.

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Pleasant Valley was completed late last year, so the county is set to receive credit funds, which are based on energy production, starting in 2017.

The wind farm is projected to bring in $3.3 to $5 million over the 10 years, according to County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.

Commissioners are pleased to see that money go toward road repairs and maintenance, as the board continues its discussions on how to fund road needs, including options like a half-cent sales tax to fund projects.

“I think it’s a good start,” Commissioner Tim Gabrielson said of the wind funds.

Commissioners Mike Ankeny and Jerry Reinartz agreed designating the money for roads would benefit rural residents, especially farmers.

“I think it’s a good deal to do this because we are an ag county,” Ankeny said. “I feel that we do need to take care of the county as far as the roads.”

“Farmers have to get their product to market, and they need good roads for that,” Reinartz added.

The county has traditionally designated money from the wind production credit to the general budget as a way to offset property taxes.

But in recent years, many rural residents have spoken out to the board to ask for wind production dollars to be designated toward roads for the benefit of rural areas, arguing those areas have the wind turbines.

Before Pleasant Valley, the credit brought in about $1.2 million a year through the county’s 253 wind towers.

Eighty-eight of Pleasant Valley’s 100 turbines are in Mower County, and 2017 will be the first year Mower receives money from their full production.

Commissioner Polly Glynn, whose 2nd District encompasses the largest rural area and much of eastern Mower, has brought the idea of designating the wind farm dollars to the board on several occasions, as roads are one of the top issues constituents speak to her about.

Some county residents have asked the board to designate all wind money toward roads; however, commissioners and county staff have been hesitant. They say moving $1.2 million a year out of the general budget would require a significant levy increase to make up the difference.

Since this new wind farm money hasn’t gone into the general fund yet, it won’t make for a tax shift, Reinartz argued.

“We have such great need,” Reinartz said of the roads.

However, Commissioner Tony Bennett noted you could make an argument the board just raised the levy by up to $500,000 a year by taking money that would have gone to the general fund and set it aside for roads.

“Realistically, we just did raise the levy,” Bennett said. “This $350,000 to $500,000 would have gone into the general fund. Now it’s not, so we did just, in all honesty, raise the levy.”