Courthouse restoration, wind farm top lengthy commissioner’s meeting

In a progressive step toward positioning the county to be best prepared for the potential courthouse renovation project, the McCulloch County Commissioners approved a request by the renovation architect to proceed with the efforts to hire a construction manager at risk for the proposed project. In a lengthy presentation and update by Kim Williams, the architect that has been working with the county since 2000 on this project, the commissioners heard a summary of reasons for the request. “We have evaluated the county to be somewhere between positions five and eight out of 10 or more projects that will be funded if everything goes through as expected,” said Williams. “There are hundreds of others who would love to be where we are, but this is not a guarantee, however, we do have a variety of things in our favor that help our position in being funded.” The project in question began in 1999-2000 as a courthouse renovation project sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission. The funds for the project are state funds that have been issued on a recurring basis. Since the inception of the project, the county was awarded a $400,000 planning and engineering grant which was used to produce detailed plans to be used in the renovation of the courthouse to its original historic integrity. The funding for the program hit a two-year delay and is now back before the legislature with expected funding of $62 million for this next round of projects. “There is one catch that focuses on the wording that was used and because of that, there will be a referendum vote required by the Senate,” said Williams. “Historically, these referendum votes have always passed, so we are optimistic, but there is always a possibility that something could go awry.” Williams detailed many of the other factors that he believes puts McCulloch County in a very favorable position to be funded when the referendum passes. That decision will be made in the November election and the proposition is saddled onto Proposition 4 to include funding for the THC program. By voting to hire a construction manager at risk, Williams explained that it would position the county better to have a competitive advantage of having contractors already in place when funding of all the projects is announced. “This entire process will be contingent upon being funded,” he said. “By doing this immediately, we are getting firm bids and contractors lined up so we will be ahead of the game when the rest of the projects are funded. “There are only five or so qualified suppliers for many of the materials that are used in historical renovations and the scope of this project is much smaller than other projects, so this will be a smart move to position ourselves ahead of the pack.” Williams also updated the commissioners on the expected costs associated with the project. With inflation and rising construction costs since the initial plans were drawn up, the overall cost estimates are now $5.4 million with a 20 percent match. According to Williams, with the project grant and all of the steps that have been completed thus far, he estimates that the county will have to come up with approximately $1 million to contribute. In discussing the local contributions, Williams also explained that the current state of disrepair of the courthouse will require approximately $2.3 million of repairs if the county chose to do the repairs on its own and not participate in the THC project. “Besides not restoring the project, and having it cost more than participating, the negative ramifications of abandoning the project would most likely require the county repay the $400,000 engineering grant. The commissioners voted unanimously to proceed with hiring the construction manager at risk. “This will allow us to bid the project tomorrow and get the project moving as quickly as we can,” said Williams. “This decision will allow us to take control of the situation as best we can rather than waiting and becoming a statistic.” Coming up with the required matching funds if and when the county receives the THC grant was also discussed. Preliminary ideas included using reserves and developing a plan for raising the money through bonds or other necessary means. The commissioners also approved a request from Mary Alice Smith with Grant Works to pursue a grant to fund the county’s portion of FEMA grant money. If received, the grant will pay for the administration costs and will completely cover the county’s match requirement. In a presentation that could not be formally considered due to it being left off the agenda, Wes Jackson gave a presentation to the court on the current status of possible wind farms being discussed and planned in McCulloch County. Jackson represented a property tax consulting business and gave a basic presentation about the status of the possible project. “Right now, Renewable Energy Systems is the firm developing the plan and they are approximately 80 percent complete with leasing agreements,” said Jackson. “If the project, known as Rattlesnake Power, comes to fruition, there are considerable advantages to every citizen in McCulloch County, namely in a significant boost to the tax base and a reduction in the tax burden on each tax payer.” Jackson gave a similar presentation using tentative numbers and figures to the Brady ISD on Monday which was met with enthusiasm as well. As it now stands, the project calls for approximately 100 wind turbines to be located along ideal topographic areas stretching west from U.S. Hwy. 283 into Concho County. “The value of these turbines would add $350,000,000 to the tax base of the county, but to make this entire project possible, we are here looking for tax abatement from the various taxing entities in the county.” According to his presentation, the request they hope to have considered include having 60 percent abatement for the first five years of a contract followed by five more years at 40 percent abatement. “This project is attractive to the developers for a number of reasons including the proximity of the farm to the transmission line north of the county and also the proximity to the major metropolitan areas and the power grid,” said Jackson. In a rough estimate of tax dollars that would be realized in the county if the project succeeds, the county as a whole would see as much as $2.2 million additional tax dollars infused into the local economy with it benefitting the three school districts in the county as well as the hospital and county with proportionate shares. “If this works, this is one of the most pure ways of adding something to our tax base without it drawing on our resources and requiring additional infrastructure,” said County Judge Randy Young. “With all of the factors involved, this could potentially be an honest win-win situation for everyone in the county.” Jackson went on to detail that if all factors line up and the project proceeds, it would be built in 2009 with 2010 being the first year with the turbines on the tax roll. The benefit to the county school districts comes directly from school value limitation agreements which allow contractual payments to be made to the districts to be used by the districts as they best see fit. The commissioners thanked Jackson for his presentation and no formal action was taken and the meeting adjourned. More information and details on the possible wind farm project will be explained in upcoming issues of the Brady Standard-Herald as additional facts and details are received.

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