• Falken asks to be removed from the committee discussing wind tower monies
BROOKINGS – Some townships within Brookings County are resisting economic development efforts because they cannot pay to keep their roads in shape, two county commissioners said last week, and it puts the county in a bad spot.
Commissioner Stephne Miller said July 24 that she serves as a liaison to the Brookings Economic Development Corporation, which is trying to bring new enterprise to the townships. Recently, the BEDC asked her about the commission’s relationship with the townships.
“I said that it was difficult at best and that the townships felt that we were not forthcoming enough with monies for them, and that the townships had told us ‘that they could not afford economic development in the townships,’” Miller said. “And I said, ‘That puts us in a real hard place, when I sit on this board that’s bringing us economic development and the townships are saying they don’t want it.’”
How is money split?
The issue relates to laws that dictate how roads to wind towers within the townships must be maintained, and how tax dollars from those wind towers are being distributed. Board members from Richland, Argo, Oaklake and Lake Hendricks townships told the Register for a July 15 news story that their share of the profits is low but their cost to maintain the roads is large.
For example, Richland Township took in about $11,000 from the towers this year, vs. almost $320,000 given to Brookings County, plus over $387,000 to Deubrook schools and almost $133,000 to Elkton schools.
Miller and Commissioner Dennis Falken met with township representatives Joel Ripley and Al Johnson recently to discuss the issue. Falken said he thinks there was confusion about the idea that the county could create an economic development fund for the townships.
“Some of the assumption was that they would use this pool of money into the future for projects; if they wanted to do something, they would commit these. And I said that, to me, wasn’t our intention, to look at long-term projects. It’s emergency needs for economic development,” Falken said.
“So, I think there’s still a little grey area as to what these funds are really set aside for. And, there’s really concern about them coming to the county asking for money every time they need it.”
Falken said “lots of issues” need to be worked out with the townships on this subject. He said the state Legislature decided how wind power taxes would be distributed, and, while the county could join with townships to petition the state to give more money to townships, it’s not really the county’s fight. The county has its roads to care for, and the townships have theirs.
Commissioner Don Larson wanted to set the record straight about who gets what money from wind energy taxes. No one would get any money if the counties and former Sen. Arnold Brown hadn’t worked to pass legislation that would tax the production of those towers, Larson said. With that legislation came the state’s decision on how to distribute those funds.
“I look in the media and they keep pounding, ‘The state gets 80 percent of the money,’” Larson said. “State does not get a dime! That money goes back to the wind tower generating people, as a kickback until such time that the formula changes. After five years, then the distribution changes. I mean, those wind towers, they’re operating tax free.”
“You are 100 percent right – they don’t understand the distribution and how it came about,” Miller said.
Townships need protection
Falken said the townships need to protect themselves against costs incurred by economic development projects such as wind towers by creating road agreements before they issue building permits for those towers.
“Before building permits can be issued, there has to be road agreements for economic development,” he said. “Well, (the townships) are saying there’s development permits have been issued and there’s not road permits. Well, I guess someone has to take responsibility for their roads, and it’s their township board.”
Falken said those road agreements are the townships’ decisions, and the county shouldn’t be involved. He said he thought the meeting with Ripley and Johnson was productive, but he is concerned about townships resisting economic development.
“If economic development is going to be resisted at the township level, that’s going to have to be a local issue that they’re going to have to do individually,” Falken said.
“I don’t think that speaks for all the townships (being) against economic development, but they certainly have an issue with the roads, and I certainly understand that, but we have issues with our roads, too.”
A second meeting with township representatives is scheduled for Aug. 27, Falken said, but he does not plan to be part of it. The Register spoke with Falken for its July 15 story about how wind money is distributed.
Then, a response letter written by Richland Township Supervisor Joel Koch and printed in the Register’s Speak Out forum July 19 disputed several of Falken’s claims.
Falken told the commission he doesn’t think he has the trust of the townships to continue to be part of this discussion and asked that he be removed from the committee.
Commission chair Deanna Santema seemed to assent to Falken’s request but did not appoint another commission member to serve in his stead.
Contact Charis Prunty at firstname.lastname@example.org.