Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 13, 2012

Williford: What will wind farm do for Tri-Central?

It may stave off consolidation discussion

By Lee Williford
Guest columnist

— The possibility of a second wind farm within the boundaries of the Tri-Central school district has become a somewhat controversial issue that has emotional overtones for many residents and taxpayers. The purpose of this letter is not to appeal to emotions but to point out a few objective elements of importance to the Tri-Central Community Schools, in particular, and to the Tipton County community in general.

The bottom line is that if the tax base does not grow and student population continues to decline, Tri-Central Schools will face a serious financial dilemma, and solutions such as school consolidation become forced and  pose a threat to what we know to be a “Small School with BIG Results.”

The project has an immediate, positive impact on the district’s assessed valuation (AV), which is the basis on which tax rates and most revenues for the school district are determined. The overall increase in the AV for Liberty and Prairie townships could range from $100 million to $300 million, depending upon the scope of the project. If a 10-year tax abatement is approved, the result will be a gradual lowering of property taxes. Who doesn’t want property taxes to go down?

Some would argue the reduction in property taxes for the average homeowner is relatively small, but keep in mind the bulk of property taxes is paid by local businesses that are trying to reduce expenses as other operational costs rise.

As Tri-Central plans for the immediate and future educational needs of students, increased funding is a must. If Tri-Central establishes a commitment to provide a computer and e-books for students, it will take additional dollars to make that happen. Potential educational partnerships with wind farm developers could impact greatly how aggressively Tri-Central will pursue such initiatives.

State resources for Tri-Central’s general fund have been drastically decreased. In addition, due to the U.S. 31 construction, Tri-Central will stand to lose considerable AV.

Homes have been demolished, retail businesses have been closed and acres of farm ground have been taken from the tax base. Property taxes on remaining property owners will have to go up to make up for the loss.

According to the latest census figures, there are 147 vacant housing units (homes and apartments) within the Tri-Central school district. The towns of Sharpsville and Windfall could expand with additional affordable housing. But with no planned business expansions on the horizon, Tri-Central faces a declining school population with fewer residents. Decreased AV then becomes even more problematic.

Most Tri-Central district residents are not in favor of school consolidation – the school is the lifeblood and identity of a community. I believe one way to preserve our schools is to embrace the planned wind farm initiative, explore the educational partnership possibilities and allow reasonable economic development to create an environmentally friendly climate for fiscal growth in Prairie, Liberty and Wildcat townships.

The school district that was put together by Liberty, Wildcat and Prairie township residents in April of 1962 should be preserved for the current residents of 2012 and beyond. I favor the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm 10-year abatement proposal and the opportunities that will come to Tri-Central Community Schools.

Lee Williford, Ed.D., is super-intendent of Tri-Central Community Schools, Sharpsville. Contact him at lwilliford@tccs.k12.in.us.