The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Jan. 28, 2022

What if we didn’t have a wind farm

To the Editor:

I recently had the opportunity to attend the candidate forum sponsored by the local Heart Land Patriots. I’m thankful they take the time to organize and sponsor these events so we can gain deeper insight in to the thoughts of the candidates and their plans.

In a recent op-ed piece published in The Van Wert Independent (“Another year of gov. expansion”, 1/22/18), Commissioner Wolfrum pointed out “… the federal government cut sales tax paid to managed care organizations. The cut in Van Wert County, my small county, was $300,000.”

I asked Commissioner Lichtensteiger how Van Wert County planned to fill the gap created by this change, as well as other revenue challenges. The general theme was to “sharpen the pencil” and figure out how to reconfigure the budget.

Let’s take a look at how much we would need to “sharpen our pencils” in several scenarios. It’s a lot of numbers, but bear with me.

First, for 2018, the county will spend more on paper than it is taking in, with estimated General Fund income of about $8.5M and appropriations of about $10.3M, a negative balance of $1.8M. In fairness, the county does overbudget in expenses and departments tend to “give back” some of their allotted amounts bringing the income and expenses more in line with each other. Last year, the county finished with a $137,291 surplus to add to their “carryover” in the General Fund for a balance of about $2.3M.

That all looks good on paper until you start digging a little deeper. For example, the current years estimated revenue includes a one-time payment from the state of $375,000 to make up for the $300,000 loss in Managed Care sales tax losses Wolfrum mentioned. Remove that one- time money and the paper deficit for this year grows to $2.2M. The wildcard in this is no one knows what the state will do next year with regard to that money. Even if revenue and expenses fell in line with last year’s numbers, the loss of that $375,000 would still leave the county with a $237,000 deficit for the year, reducing the carryover funds to $1.9M.

As with all things we experience in a household, expenses increase while income is flat or decreasing. On top of that, the government takes away and rarely gives back.

So, what has PILOT money done for the County General Fund in the four previous years we’ve received it (we’re currently collecting year 5)? It’s added $1.2M to the General Fund balance. Take that away and that $2.3M carryover balance we had coming in to 2018 would have been about $1.1M. Carry that over in to 2018 with the budget on paper and a $1.1M carryover minus a now $2.5M in extra spending not only eliminates the carryover, it puts the County “carryover” almost $1.4M in the debt. That’s a lot of pencil sharpening if, as it’s been said, “we don’t need the wind farm money, we have a healthy carryover.”

The long and the short of it is this: Had it not been for the wind farm income to the county and the one-time “gift” of $375,000 from the state to make up for what they took away, we’d be overdrawn on paper. Even if give-backs from the county departments pan out, we’re only up $826,000. At that rate, 2019 would be pretty bleak, given the rate of spending and if the state doesn’t gift the county more money.

Had prior commissioners not had the foresight to approve an Alternative Energy Zone, it would take even less time to burn through the “savings account” to fill the gap.

And that is just one income loss. What lies around the corner? We can’t
“sharpen our pencil” out of those losses. We need to develop and leverage many and diverse income sources. While it’s great to hope the megasite bears fruit, pinning hopes on a once-in-a-generation development at the expense of opportunities in front of us today is foolish.

Blue Creek Wind Farm provides a steady source of income to sevices used by all Van Wert County residents, including schools, townships, parks, the county General Fund, senior citizens, mental health and development disability agencies, the county Extension office, and the library.

The proposed Long Prairie Wind Farm deserves consideration for all parties who will benefit from it and it deserves leadership to broker those discussions, something that has been lacking for a number of years. Not only would it expand income for all the above listed recipients (essentially everyone in Van Wert County in one form or another), it would bring in the one organization that doesn’t receive any of the PILOT money: Van Wert City Schools. Why don’t they receive any PILOT money today? Simply put, none of the existing turbines sit in their district. The PILOT is distributed like a tax to those who have taxation associated with where the turbine sits. From new development, a number of the new ones would fall in their district.

As we go in to the primary election, consider this: Would you manage your household finances this way? And would you turn away the “bird in hand” vs. the “two in the bush” of the megasite? Van Wert County needs to diversify its income so it can move on to the next economic development project and continue searching for tenants for the megasite, both of which require active, engaged leadership. It also needs additional income to fight the problems in the community such as the opioid epidemic, which has devastated so many families around us.

Want to see the numbers for yourself? Go to http://bit.ly/2JLGhzy

Eric Germann

Van Wert

via email

POSTED: 05/07/18 at 8:06 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor