LTE by Van Wert County Commissioner, Todd Wolfrum–a must read!

Webmaster’s note: recently the wind industry has been seeking  to convince our county commissioners to render our county as an Alternative Energy Zone including granting them a PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) as incentives to build. As usual, they paint a grand picture of all the money the schools will make and how great an economic boost it would be for the county (though, if you do the research on their so called “boost” to economy claim, it will  become evident that the “boost” they are referring to is quite one sided.

Making Huron County an AEZ would completely remove the county’s ability to actively negotiate or deal directly with the wind industry. The following post is from a man who has “been there, done that”.  At the beginning of our fight to keep industrial wind out of rural Greenwich, we received an assurance from the then seated commissioners that they would not render Huron County as an AEZ. However, since the last election, it is not as certain that all commissioners are on board to maintain our county as a non- AEZ. We, at GNU, thought it might be prudent to feature this letter to the editor by a Van Wert county commissioner, Todd Wolfrum.  Please read…

Windmills: Taxes, setbacks and referendums
Citizen Wolfrum
Todd D. Wolfrum
Saturday, July 02, 2016 10:07 PM

Todd Wolfrum became Van Wert County Commissioner on January 2, 2013. He is the son of Robert and Barb Wolfrum who both were teachers in the county and surrounding areas for over 30 years. He graduated from Lincolnview High School in 1989 and Bluffton College in 1993 before attending and graduating from the University of Toledo College of Law in 2002. He has operated a general practice law office in Van Wert for 13 years. During that time he also served two years as a part-time prosecutor in Paulding County. He owned and operated a pizza carry-out business in Middle Point for four years prior to becoming commissioner. For several years, he has written a weekly column for the local newspaper explaining estate planning and legal issues to the general public. He serves on the Van Wert County Hospital Board, the Community Investment Corporation, and is President of the Regional Planning Commission.
Todd Wolfrum became Van Wert County Commissioner on January 2, 2013.

Wanna start an argument? Go to almost any random group of people in Van Wert County and state your opinion about windmills. Chances are, you will quickly find someone with whom to disagree. Without question this is the most divisive issue blowing around our county, the one that puts people in ardent camps of pro and anti, our local Donald Trump.

It seemed to be a dead issue just a few years ago when the state passed legislation changing the setbacks – the distance a windmill needs to be located away from other private property. The setbacks nearly tripled eliminating over 90 percent of the proposed sites.

But then came House Bill 190, which offered to give the setback issue back to county commissioners. Although the bill never made it out of committee, it renewed hopes for the pro-windmill crowd. In the commissioners’ office, we had to consider what we would do if the issue came back to us and agreed that the best alternative would be to put it to a referendum.

To be clear, we are not proposing a vote on whether or not the county should allow more windmills. Every property owner has a right to do what they want with their property and it is a concern of ours to protect that right.

But, if you are going to build something on your property, you are subject to a tax assessment. Real property taxes are assessed on all land, buildings and structures. If a property owner would choose to build a windmill, they would be taxed on its full value.

The question then is should a wind farm receive a tax break? The pro crowd argues that, yes, most definitely, this is economic development and a tax break should be automatic. The current wind farm is taxed pursuant to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) wherein the schools, county, townships, and other agencies receive a fixed payment instead of the windmills being normally assessed. This results in about a 70-80 percent reduction in tax payments.

A few years ago, before the state changed the setbacks and after several conferences with our township trustees, the Ohio Power Siting Board and Iberdrola, we determined that the PILOT eliminated our ability to negotiate with wind companies and was not in our county’s best interest. We revoked the Alternative Energy Zone designation for our county that had allowed the Blue Creek Wind Farm to be taxed under the PILOT.

Should the setbacks be returned to a manageable distance for Apex or Iberdrola to build a farm, this is the issue we would present to voters. We would ask the affected townships and the wind company to negotiate a tax scheme that has a chance to be approved and then submit it for an up or down vote.

A concern becomes who gets to vote on this issue? It does not seem appropriate that areas that stand only to benefit from a taxing scheme be allowed to vote to burden another area. For example, if a mega hog farm would want to locate on the outskirts of Convoy and the tax benefits would accrue to every other part of the county, what might be the result in Middle Point of that vote? Or if the roles were reversed, what might be the result in Convoy?

Van Wert City Schools would receive a significant monetary benefit if turbines were located in Liberty Township. But it is the residents of Liberty Township who would be burdened by the presence of the windmills and it would be that township’s tax revenues that are affected by a reduction in the amounts paid by windmill owners. I don’t know a definition of fair that would allow Van Wert City voters, an overwhelming majority of the school district, to determine this issue for Liberty Township.

Hog farms are a good parallel. No one wants to live next to one, including me. But the county has no authority to limit hog farms (or chicken farms like the one currently proposed in Jennings Township). Rural area is zoned agriculture and the Ohio Department of Agriculture is the regulatory agency. But, imagine if we started giving tax breaks to incentivize a hog farm to locate next door to you.

That is what the wind companies would have us do to the people in the rural areas, many of whom see the windmills as a greater nuisance than a hog farm. Another concern raised by a few of our township trustees is if we put this to a vote we’ll be putting everything in their township to a vote. But the farms will not be within one township. There needs to be a general scheme across several townships for any chance of success. And it is hard to understand why a trustee would not to want to discern the will of their constituents on a controversial issue like this.

Personally, I think I’ve been clear on my position in the past. I think windmills are horrible federal policy but as long as the federal government is intent on bankrupting our next generation, I wouldn’t object to see some of that money get wasted locally.

If you are in the pro crowd, I would advise against trying to pressure us to force windmills on a population that, as of now, does not want them. That has been the tactic of the wind companies for the last few years and it continues to have a zero chance of success. Replace lecturing with negotiation – the antis are well aware of the reasons to build these things and are not convinced. Perhaps you can pay their electric bills to win some support.

And perhaps there is no way to win support. But if a majority of people in a zone for a proposed wind farm cannot be convinced to accept a tax plan, then someone will need to explain why it should be forced on them over their objection, because that is really the only thing that has been proposed to date.

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