County court approves tax incentive for wind project

Setting things up in the right order to take advantage of the proposed wind farm, the McCulloch County Commissioners voted Monday to do the first formal steps to allow the project to continue. The first official item on the agenda was a public hearing on the creation of a reinvestment zone in non-incorporated areas of McCulloch County. Several members of the audience spoke in support of the item, and no opposition was recorded. After formally closing the short hearing, the commissioners then voted unanimously to create the reinvestment zone before considering and approving an agreement for tax abatement with Renewable Energy Sources (RES) and the proposed Rattlesnake Wind Energy Project. William Coates, a land acquisition specialist with RES, addressed the commissioners and members of the audience and gave a short synopsis of where the project lies and also fielded questions from the group. According to Coates, RES has approximately 70-75 percent of the property leased that it will need to put the 100 turbines on the mountains in northwest McCulloch County. He also stated that the company is also engaging in other early development tasks associated with the project and that several issues such as selling the power, interconnecting lines and extending the transmission line to the proposed area are being detailed. Commissioner Brent Deeds asked Coates if RES had any other projects in or around the area. “We have a current project in Mills, Brown, Comanche and Erath Counties and also have the Cross Timbers project in Albany,” said Coates. Coates was also asked about the long-term maintenance and care of the wind turbines. He stated that the leases are typically 40-year leases with the landowners and they do have decommissioning clauses in them in the event something were to happen that rendered the project unusable. At that point in time, the company would be responsible for removing the turbines. In discussing the tax abatement, County Judge Randy Young indicated that the initial proposal of 60/40 abatement split evenly in the first 10 years of the project had been revisited by he and Wes Jackson, a consultant working with RES. Young stated that a gradual decrease in the amount of abatement would be preferential if that worked with RES. After little discussion, the commissioners unanimously approved the proposed tax abatement on a schedule that began with 90 percent and gradually decreased from 80 on down annually to 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 25 and 20 percent. Over the 10-year life of the project, the average will still come out as 50 percent. “This project, if it comes to pass, will benefit every taxpayer in McCulloch County beginning the first year that the actual project begins, by lowering the amount of taxes they pay,” commented Jackson. In shifting gears to the next large project that is looming for the commissioners, they voted to approve the recommendation of the courthouse renovation architect for a construction manager at risk. According to the summary submitted by Kim Williams with TWC Architects, Journeyman Construction was the top recommendation for the project. “Journeyman is a fairly large, Austin-based company that appears to be the strongest, best- managed company for the value,” wrote Williams. “Although two other candidates, Phoenix and J.R. Jones have more restoration experience, we believe Journeyman offers the best construction management capabilities of the candidates. This is coupled with the lowest fee cost (4 percent) and the most realistic general conditions cost. Possibly the most important aspect of this company is their vast, active network of subcontractor bidders in the Austin and San Antonio metro areas, which should enable them to assemble the best, most competitive construction team for this project.” Representatives from Journeyman and Templeton Construction of San Angelo were at the meeting and lobbied their firm’s position to the commissioners, but when the motion was made, Journeyman was approved unanimously. In a sidebar to the discussion, Young made the statement that with early voting officially underway for the 16 Constitutional Amendments, the passage of Proposition 4 is vital to the courthouse restoration project due to the fact that the funding will come directly from this proposition. “If Proposition 4 does not pass, that will be the end of the courthouse restoration program.” The commissioners also entertained a proposal by Christy Gillett with Cellular One to consider using her company for the county’s phone service. Following her presentation, the court asked to have her do a cost-based analysis to see if they could benefit from switching from their current provider. Two other formal actions were approved by the commissioners including the acceptance of a grant from the G. Rollie White Trust and the authorization of the county treasurer to pay the recurring bills for the current budget cycle.

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