Bob Laddís plea for the Lingleville Independent School District to refuse a tax abatement for Silver Star Wind Power fell on ears deafened by financial struggle Thursday night ó the hunger of an under funded school ó looking for ways to stay alive.
The meeting was held in a small room. A library of just a few hundred books with what appeared to be homemade painted shelving, with walls covered in plain brown paneling, sporting the barest of furnishings. The room was warm, as the window unit air conditioner struggled to keep up. It was clean and neat, the indoor/outdoor mauve carpeting freshly vacuumed. The speakerís podium was covered with stapled and taped-on black bulletin board paper ó no doubt someoneís inexpensive solution to making it look more presentable.
Was it any wonder, then, that LISD board members unanimously approved a move that would gain the district $3.1 million over the next 10 years?
With aging facilities and a declining student population, no one seemed surprised and only a handful of citizens turned out for the required hearing.
The School Board of Trustees met in closed session at 6 p.m. to discuss arrangements with lawyers for what amounts to a tax abatement, although itís not formally called that, for the wind electricity generating company, a subsidiary of British Petroleum. A public forum was held for community members to address the board on the issues of the district creating a reinvestment zone for an appraised value limitation on property and the companyís application for such, along with a resolution of support for the company.
Ladd owns property in the district but resides in Dallas and is a fairly well known opponent of wind turbine farms. He believes they decrease property values, are an ineffective and undependable source of electricity that is expensive to generate and transmit, and eventually, he says, those costs will be seen in every consumerís bill. He accused the company, which has profited $10 billion dollars in the last quarter, of pure greed and undeserving of any more breaks. He said there was nothing preventing the company from selling out. If the buyer becomes bankrupt or decides to abandon for any reason, there would be no recourse for the district and the area would be stuck with dilapidating wind turbines ruining the landscape. Itís a price he thinks is too high to pay for property that he said has doubled in value in the last three years.
Ladd told board members the company should not receive any more tax abatements when they are already $87 million to the good on abatements in Texas.
Ladd turned and spoke directly to the companyís representative, Dale Cummings and asked,Ē How much is enough?Ē
Essentially, he said, it is robbing the state of much needed revenue for the education of children throughout the state. He said he realized every school district needs more money.
According to Superintendent Dennis Hughes, just five years ago his school enrolled 275 students and this year expects to enroll about 196. At more than $5,000 lost from the state for each student not enrolled, he made the decision not to replace three faculty members for the coming year. He said he fully expects more of the same in the future without an infusion of funds from somewhere.
Ladd and another woman, speaking with the same sentiments as he, said they had only learned about the meeting the night before. The woman asked the board to decline or shelve the agreement until more citizens could fully understand what was happening.
Attorneys for the school explained that for the first two years the wind power company would pay full taxes on the project, estimated to be worth $95 million on completion. For the next eight years, with the creation of the reinvestment zone, according to a law designed to attract just such ventures to Texas, the company will receive an estimated $7.8 million in tax savings and credits (pending appraisals) 40 percent of which they will pay directly to the district.
Lingleville taxpayers would see a modest 2-cent savings on the INS rate in two years.
The proposed agreement is currently awaiting a recommendation from the state comptrollerís office, which would go into effect Jan. 1 of 2008 and last until Dec. 31, 2017.
The attorneys reminded the board that they are charged with being good stewards for students and taxpayers and stated there are lots of upsides to the decision without any significant downsides.
In Nolan County, a few wind turbines that have a life span of 20 to 25 years have turned into approximately 2,000 and provided an economic boost for that area, according to the schoolís lawyer. And, he said, property values in that area have risen.
It appears the hum of 26 wind turbines will be on the horizon in Linglevilleís future. The lease agreements from the landowners are in place, and itís a done deal.
ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 965-3124,ext. 238