The county commissioners on Tuesday gave their blessing to an Economic Development Agreement struck last week between the county council and a solar investment team looking to build a 1,200-acre farm in Harrison Township.
But it wasn’t without some hesitation, at least by commissioner Tim Ellerman.
“We all want this (solar) project to go through,” Ellerman said. “But I find fault with the county council in that members that represent the South Knox area failed to do their jobs.”
The deal struck allows for a ten-year tax abatement — one that essentially forgives 100% of the personal and property taxes on any improvements made to the land.
In return, $2.5 million will be paid to the county in “economic development payments,” ones made by Tenaska and Capital Dynamics, the partnership taking on the solar project, over a six-year period.
The county, too, is expected to see additional tax benefits totaling some $16 million over the expected 35-year life of the solar farm.
Ellerman, however, took issue with the $2.5 million in economic development payments made by the solar team to the county; the money will be placed in the Rainy Day Fund.
He wanted to see a portion of that money go to the South Knox School Corp., possibly the Harrison Township Fire Department, too.
Per the agreement, the taxing entities won’t lose any current property tax revenue as taxes will still be paid on the land itself. In fact, since solar-farmed land is assessed at three times the amount of agricultural land, they will actually see more.
But since the taxes on any improvements made to it have been temporarily forgiven, it will be ten years before the county’s taxing units see that additional revenue.
“So they are getting more money,” said commissioner Trent Hinkle. “Just not as much as they could have without the abatement.”
Still, Ellerman thought the economic development payments should be shared with those who are being directly affected.
He argued that the council “failed to protect” their constituents, i.e. officials with the school corporation and others in the South Knox area.
“And I know they were contacted about it,” Ellerman alleged.
Mark Anson, representing himself and his brothers, Mike and Doug Anson, who have all struck lease deals with the solar development duo, told members of the county council last week during a public hearing that the EDA was a “significant part of this project” being able to move forward.
He, too, said the economic development payments made to the county over the next six years could serve as a “great resource for things not planned for,” but he shared Ellerman’s discouragement that nothing was specifically set aside for South Knox schools.
County council members didn’t immediately respond.
The commissioners learned Tuesday that they don’t have the authority to change the financial arrangement reached by the council and Tenaska and Capital Dynamics.
They could refuse to approve the deal, which would only hold up construction as the solar duo can’t appeal to the Area Plan Commission for a permit until they do.
The commissioners agreed that wasn’t something they were willing to do and, in the end, approved the EDA with a 3-0 vote.
The economic development payments made to the county will range from $250,000 paid the first and last year of the 6-year agreement with $500,000 paid the other four years in between.
Council members have not discussed publicly what they plan to do with the money.
Per the EDA with Tenaska and Capital Dynamics, the county, too, will be reimbursed for the legal fees incurred by the development of a solar ordinance over the last few months. The new county legislation directly addresses the zoning requirements for a solar project.
The county didn’t previously have one, so it was an endeavor taken on by the commissioners in partnership with the Area Plan Commission.
The solar team hopes to begin engineering on the solar farm yet this year, secure final approvals from county officials early in 2021 and begin construction soon thereafter.
They expect it to be fully operational by 2022.