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Wind Tax increase discussed

Med Bow Town Council invites Wind Wyoming’s Way chairman to speak at meeting, discussion ensues

 


The Medicine Bow Town Council met at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the Medicine Bow Community Hall. All council members and mayor Kevin Colman were in attendance.

The agenda and minutes for the regular town council held on Jan. 14 and a special meeting on Feb. 4 were approved.

Karen Heath, town clerk/treasurer, read the financials that were ratified and approved.

Wind Discussion

Jeb Steward, Encampment resident and chairman for the Wind Wyoming’s Way committee, thanked the council for inviting him to speak. Colman said he understood Steward was putting forth a petition to make the wind tax increase issue a ballot initiative.

Steward has had time in public service as a representative in the state legislature and said his motivation for doing the petition for the committee was to put a question in front of the voters for a higher tax on electricity production from wind. He said it was difficult to get the issue placed on the ballot because it takes signatures from 15 percent of the people who voted in the last election from two-thirds of the counties in Wyoming. The number of signatures required is 7,792.

Steward said many on his committee believed this petition would help give people a voice. He said many people feel the wind industry is too heavily subsidized with a lack of taxes and felt these people didn’t have a say. He said, if successful, the question would go on the 2020 ballot. Steward’s petition suggests raising the existing tax of $1 per megawatt/hour generated to $5 per megawatt/hour. He said his committee had to submit the question to the state for approval. The question also would remove the three year exemption from the tax. Steward added that everyone’s bill would go up only a half cent per kilowatt.

Steward, a sponsor of the original wind tax bill in 2009-10, asked who would oppose it, and that many elected officials and citizens were signing it. He said people want to talk about this and are frustrated with recent legislative events. Three bills were introduced to the legislature this year, with one of the bills calling for a repeal of the tax. The legislature chose not to move those forward.

Councilmember Sharon Biamon asked how many states charged this tax and Steward said, “One.” Biamon was concerned if they raised the tax, the wind industry would leave.

Kenda Colman, Medicine Bow resident, asked where the money would go if the tax was raised. She said, currently, the state receives 60 percent of the funds and counties receive 40 percent. Kenda said if Steward wanted to change anything, he should change that because the towns receive nothing from the tax. She continued by saying that utility companies are finding the wind in Wyoming is too strong and gusty. Kenda pointed out that taxing these companies excessively will make them go elsewhere. She said she would not sign the petition.

Steward said the extra money generated would all go to the state if this went through. Heath asked what was in it for the towns.

“Why should they (towns)sign a petition like that if there was no benefit for the town?” Heath questioned.

Steward said it was prohibited by statute to earmark funds like this.

“Once again the State would be sitting on an increase while the legislature year after year was trying to cut direct funds to municipalities,” Mayor Colman said. “Originally the 40 percent that went to counties was supposed to trickle down to the towns but it never did.”

Mayor Colman said he had an issue with people in Jackson voting on something they would never see and they would not have to put up with the sight of turbines or the construction impacts.

“Technology is changing, and you can produce the same amount of energy with more efficient turbines and less wind.” Mayor Colman said. “It’s not something where Wyoming holds the monopoly on wind energy. The money paid to ranchers by the wind energy companies helps them when cattle prices drop. It is like pulling teeth to get corporations to come to Wyoming because there’s no tax incentives. The advantage is the sales tax issue is off the table. A haul truck lasts for years and doesn’t generate a lot of sales tax, but when nacelles and props are being replaced it generates much more sales tax.”

“I listened to Mr. Steward’s presentation to the Joint Revenue Committee regarding wind tax, and he spoke against the blight to the scenery,” Heath said. “This initiative would accomplish his purpose of preventing the companies from building any turbines.”

Troy Maddox, resident of Medicine Bow, said he didn’t have a problem with taxing wind energy production, but asked, “why kill a project before it ever got started.”

“Why even consider this tax when it might change where they build them, which may not be in Wyoming?” Maddox asked. “Wait until they are built and then tax them. The only thing I see this initiative accomplishing, if passed, would be to get the companies to leave before building.”

Steward said he had heard this before from gas and oil companies, that if they were taxed or over-regulated, they would leave. He said if the resource was here, they would stay.

Biamon asked how much tax coal was paying and Jeb Steward said he didn’t know. She asked if that wouldn’t be pertinent to the discussion. She asked, rhetorically, how much were coal or gas plants taxed on their energy production. She added they weren’t being taxed on production.

Steward said, in Wyoming, the process for taxing coal and gas was a severance tax.

Biamon asked how they could tax the wind. “That is like taxing water flowing down a river,” Biamon said.

“The ideology that Council member Biamon is getting at, is being taxed on energy production, is comparing apples to watermelons,” Mayor Colman said. “If you mined a ton of coal, it is gone forever, but the wind would always blow. How can you tax one production unit?”

He said only wind was taxed on production, and no other energy source was.

Jim Colman, Medicine Bow resident, said he agreed with Biamon; there were six sources of energy in this state and only one was being taxed on production, wind.

Braeden Hyde, Medicine Bow resident, said that people were sick of subsidies for wind and he proposed it would be better to cut those than to raise taxes.

“Every industry, when it first comes in, is heavily subsidized, so to tax it before it even gets started would drive them away,” Mayor Colman said.

Steward said people had to look at the total tax picture in Wyoming, which was very favorable. There is no corporate tax, and the state has the best wind. He believed those two aspects would encourage the wind industry to stay and would sustain development.

Medicine Bow resident Lyle Flansburg asked what data Steward had to back up his claim that the wind industry wouldn’t leave.

Steward said he had heard that before from gas, coal, and oil companies and it didn’t happen.

Flansburg asked if those were the same companies and then asked if there had ever been an industry where the state quadrupled the tax on them before they got started.

Maddox said there was a difference between wind and coal and gas.

Kenda Colman said there was still coal in Hanna, but the costs to mine it have risen, so companies pulled out, and if the cost was too high for wind production, the wind companies would leave as well.

The mayor and council thanked Steward for his time and coming to the meeting.

Back to Business

The second reading of ordinance 1-2019 amending section 19-2-101 of the Medicine Bow municipal code clarifying parties entitled to direct utility was approved.

Mayor Colman appointed the three candidates to the Board of Adjustments. Maddox, Sandy Levengood, and Biamon. Mayor Colman said the Board of Adjustments was in place for when certain things the Planning and Zoning Commission could not pass, such as variances.

He said, for example, if someone wanted an eight foot fence and the planning and zoning regulations stated only a six foot fence was allowed, the property owner could apply for a variance which would be considered by the Board of Adjustments.

On the medical clinic, Biamon said in the past the town had entered into a contract for services with the clinic and had paid money to them. She said it had come to her attention that the clinic was wasting funds and even with impact money, the clinic wouldn’t last long.

A motion was made by council member John Cowdin and was seconded by council member Trevor Strauch to invite the Clinic Board to the next regular Council meeting to discuss the clinic and the payment. The motion carried.

Charlie George, public works director, said snow removal had been on the forefront. Baimon said snow removal had been excellent at the museum and Kenda Colman said the senior center parking lot had been cleared well, also.

Medicine Bow Museum Director Biamon said she was working on grants and more funding for the Fossil Cabin. She said some pledges haven’t come in for the cabin, which needed a new roof and drywall, as well as showcases and windows. Kenda Colman suggested contacting Ripley’s Believe It or Not and keep the sign because it was advertising for them and a draw for the cabin. Biamon said she might do that, but wanted to keep the cabin in as historically correct a condition as possible.

South Central Wyoming Emergency Medical Services representative Jim Colman said the service was running an EMT class. The office had been moved to their building in Saratoga, but they had to keep the Elk Mountain address because of federal forms. He would get a 2019 meeting schedule and post it.

Mayor Colman read a letter from the United Methodist church, which detailed a water leak they had that had been undiscovered for a few weeks because of the scarce frequency of the use of the building. They requested a discount on their bill since they use so little water every month. The council approved a motion to discount the bill to the monthly minimum and waive the turn on and off fees and to charge only the maintenance fee for January and February.

The town council meeting ended at 9:12 p.m. The next scheduled meeting is at 7 p.m. on March 11 at the Medicine Bow Community Hall.

 

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