By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
Tipton — Tipton County property owners in two townships are likely to see a drop in their property tax bills, due to the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, but the impact on Tri-Central schools is far less certain, according to records released by the county Wednesday.
Projections calculated by Carmel-based consultants H.J. Umbaugh show property tax rates could fall by about 16 percent by 2026 in Prairie and Liberty townships, if the Prairie Breeze developers install the largest of the three turbine systems they’ve discussed.
That impact translates into annual savings of about $99 for the owner of a home valued at $113,500, according to the report.
The project application, filed in advance of a key Feb. 25 meeting of the Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals, indicates developer juwi Wind Energy will try to build a 150 megawatt wind farm, with 77 turbines in Prairie Township and 17 turbines in Liberty Township.
That size of wind farm would add millions to the county’s tax base, effectively relieving some of the burden on other taxpayers.
Apart from specific cash payments to the county, however, the wind farm wouldn’t increase the amount of operating revenue for either the county or Tri-Central schools.
State restrictions on the growth of tax levies would continue to limit the amount of revenue the county could bring in each year.
The property taxes paid by the wind farm would therefore go toward lowering the tax rates in Prairie and Liberty townships.
And at Tri-Central, the schools would receive more money for the capital projects fund, which can be used for maintenance, technology and utility payments, Interim Superintendent Bob Boyd said Thursday.
Between 2016 and 2026, the schools would receive a total of about $906,000 — or an extra $163,000 a year — for the capital projects fund. That extra funding would continue to go to the schools throughout the life span of the wind farm.
The problem for the schools is that the capital projects fund can’t be used to pay teachers.
Boyd said the school’s general fund, which pays teachers, has been dropping for years. The state puts up the general fund money, based largely on how many students attend each district.
In 2006, the schools received $6.2 million in the general fund; in 2012 that figure was $5.1 million, Boyd said.
“It is additional money we don’t currently have, but the negative is that it would strictly apply to capital projects and wouldn’t assist us in the general fund, where we’re really having the problem,” Boyd said.
Boyd said the school has been running an operating deficit each of the past three years.
“If it weren’t for cash balances and the Rainy Day Fund, we wouldn’t be surviving,” Boyd said. “We’ve begun now to really look seriously at where we can make some alterations in spending this calendar year.”
Tipton County would get a total of about $80,000 for its cumulative capital fund over the same 2016-2026 period, and the Liberty Township Fire Department would get about $14,000, according to the Umbaugh report.
The financial impact of the project would extend beyond tax payments, however.
The developers are expected to pay up to $1.78 million in economic development payments to the county, along with another $1 million to $3.6 million for road repairs and improvements.
Landowner payments are estimated at up to $36 million over the duration of a 30-year lease, and juwi estimates between $3.7 million and $8.9 million in wages paid on the project.
Those are the positive revenue impacts, but not everyone believes the project will be a net positive for the county.
Kirsten Leonard, one of the organizers of the opposition, said the project is more likely to generate revenue for 20 years rather than 30, and questions the costs to be borne by the county at the end of the project’s life cycle.
“We feel like even the income they’re paying to the 50 families with leases is not going to offset the loss of equity in homes,” Leonard said. “And that’s if [the leaseholders] get the full amount of money they think they’re going to get.”
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org