Lewis discusses energy project fund

JULIE ABBASS/WATERTOWN DAILY TIMESThe Lewis County Industrial Development Corporation discusses the way forward to create a Community Economic Development Fund using money negotiated from energy companies starting with Invenergy’s Number Three Wind Farm. The funds will be available for grants or loans used for economic development around the county, not just the towns, schools and county taxing jurisdictions impacted by the project. It is completely separate from payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, negotiations. Julie Abbass/Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — For three years, the Lewis County Industrial Development Corporation has been researching the possibility of creating a fund financed by energy project money that could be used throughout the county instead of just the taxing areas impacted directly by the projects.

Starting with Invenergy’s Number Three Wind Farm if it is approved by the state Siting Board in September, in addition to the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes that is split among the county, towns and schools whose tax levy is impacted by the use of land for the project, the IDA is negotiating an amount of money to start a Community Economic Development Fund.

“The idea is floated on there being a better way for money from these projects to get distributed considering who can use it, whether or not it counts against the tax cap and what can be done with it,” IDA Executive Director Eric Virkler said in an interview earlier this month.

In a special meeting of the IDA board on June 24, updates were given about the direction the fund is heading as the legalities and financial possibilities are being explored.

According to the opinions of three different lawyers consulted on the matter, Mr. Virkler said, the fund will likely be created and administered through a local development corporation.

At this point in the process, the IDA board members agreed that the Lewis County Development Corporation may be the best option to manage the fund because there would be time and expenses involved in setting up a new entity, lowering the amount of money going into the fund and being made available to the communities.

“We’ve broken it down into three categories as the IDA has been thinking about this,” Mr. Virkler told members of the county Finance and Rules Legislative Committee in their July 23 meeting, “One would be grants or loans for small businesses, a second would be municipal or community projects like water, wastewater, a community park and sidewalks, and the third category would be non-profits, education, health care.”

The board or a committee of the local development corporation that ultimately administers the fund would act independently of the IDA, reviewing and approving the projects.

They would also need to lead the process setting up the Community Economic Development Fund.

Mr. Virkler said in both the committee meeting and the IDA board meeting that the PILOT agreements and tax incentives are completely separate from the amount negotiated for the fund, however, all of those amounts come from the large “pot” of money the energy company is willing to invest in the community.

While the IDA is still working through the legal details and examining the amount Number Three would be willing to invest in the fund, meeting with the municipal leaders in the project’s taxing jurisdictions and getting feedback is next, as well as continuing discussions with the county board of legislators.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment

David LaMora

Mr. Virkler refers to the large "pot" of money the developer is willing to invest in the community. It would be more accurate and revealing to label it for what it is. It is a large pot of money the developer is willing to 'bribe'the community with to offset the negative impacts of the project.

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