Pulaski County officials hope the proceeds from the Mammoth Solar development could fund much of the justice center and courthouse projects, although developers are calling for the maximum tax break possible.
A 100 percent, 20-year reduction is requested for the solar park. But the county would still get money in other ways, according to County Attorney Kevin Tankersley. “I think when you say ‘tax break’ people generally get a little bit of support for you to give someone a break,” Tankersley told the district council and commissioners on Monday. “You pay the property taxes. You may be paying more property taxes than before. They give them a tax break on the panels they put in at their expense and then they’ll share the richness of what those panels produce with you, so they’re actually going to give you more than you would have gotten if you taxed them would.”
In exchange for the tax break on the solar panels, Mammoth Solar would agree to a structured plan for economic development payments, funds that are not subject to the property tax cap. Community Development Commission executive director Nathan Origer said payments would be based on megawatts of production, but he also wants to set a minimum payment and insurance requirements.
“So if there’s an act of God like a tornado or a Bigfoot and everything rips apart, your insurer is on the hook to offset that revenue for us instead of giving you a year off or whatever.” While you rebuild “Origer explained.
These revenues could then be used to cover debt servicing for the courthouse and justice center projects, and could also be shared with the other tax authorities within the county.
The district council and commissioners set up a committee to conduct these negotiations. It consists of Origer, District Attorney Kevin Tankersley, Commissioner Chuck Mellon, and Councilors Adam Loehmer and Mike Tiede. The final agreement will also depend on the results of an economic impact analysis by the accounting firm Baker Tilly.
The district council approved the first step in the mining process by declaring 9,200 hectares of the district an economic revitalization area by four to two votes.
Councilor Brian Young had several concerns including the fact that the project is still in litigation, the economic impact analysis is ongoing, and Mammoth Solar representatives have not attended any county council meetings. Attorney Jason Kuchmay, who represents a number of opponents of the project, argued that it was not state law to designate thousands of acres of farmland as an economic revitalization area.
But Origer said the state has made it clear that the county council can do what it wants in this case. “The Department of Local Government Finance, in its own words, gives the local tax authority ‘a lot of leeway’ to exercise their discretion,” Origer said. “If you believe that a beautiful cornfield is not in its most desirable condition because it cannot take growth to new levels, then that is up to you.”
The approval of the first step means that the council can call a public hearing before deciding whether to give final approval to the tax exemption and business development agreement. That hearing is tentatively scheduled for October 25th at 7:00 p.m. EDT.