Anticipating that possibility, Jay County Council on Wednesday decided it would consider requests for tax abatements this year on construction projects of at least $25 million.
Council members also got a brief update on the county’s year-end finances.
The decision for council to consider abatements this year — it had imposed a moratorium on any such requests in both 2016 and ’17 — came as representatives from Scout Clean Energy, a company based in Boulder, Colorado, have already met in executive session with Jay County Commissioners and other local officials about plans for a wind energy facility — Bitter Ridge Wind Farm. A county council executive session is slated for 6 p.m. Jan. 24.
Over the last few months, Bitter Ridge has purchased easements on property in Jefferson Township. Bitter Ridge’s incorporation data links back to Harvest Energy Resources, another Boulder-based company. Harvest and Scout are connected, both founded by Michael Rucker, who serves as president of the former and CEO of the latter.
Council president Jeanne Houchins said Wednesday that the facility being discussed would be about a $200 million project in Jay County.
Bluff Point Wind Energy Center, a NextEra Energy Resources project, also involved $200 million in construction, with about $145 million of that in Jay County and the remainder in Randolph County. Completed last year, it was the largest construction project in the county’s history.
The abatement moratorium that had been imposed in each of the last two years came because council decided it had been seeing too many requests, many of which did not serve to create new jobs. But with another company expressing interest in building a wind farm in Jay County, members Ted Champ, Gary Theurer, Cindy Newton, Mike Rockwell, Bob Vance, Faron Parr and Houchins decided not to extend that moratorium for a third year.
Instead, it set the $25 million threshold to ensure that only massive projects would be eligible. Even then, they will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
NextEra received a 10-year tax abatement from the county. A similar request is expected for the Bitter Ridge project, Houchins said.
Answering a question from Rockwell, auditor Anna Culy told council the county finished 2017 with a general fund balance of just over $1.98 million. That’s up more than $1 million from its 2016 total of $902,591. The balance was at just $289,381 at the close of 2014, but has been on a steady climb since.
The county’s rainy day fund balance remained essentially the same as the previous year at $1.97 million.
Rockwell asked about the possibility of shifting some additional money to the rainy day fund, with council deciding to revisit the issue in mid-2018 in order to see how the county’s financial situation develops this year.