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Council making sure its ducks in a row to act on solar farm tax abatement

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The Sullivan County Council is planning ahead this year to respond in a timely manner to an annual revisit of a tax abatement granted to a local solar farm project.

The council had voted to rescind a 10-year tax abatement in June 2018, but reversed course in late July 2018, being unable to do so after determining they had not met a deadline to conduct a public hearing.

The original tax abatement was approved by a slim 4-3 council vote in Feb. 2015. Cypress Creek Renewables actually completed the project in Sept. 2016, after the project was sold to them by juwi solar Inc., which had received the abatement.

According to Vicki Talpas, county assessor, the assessed value of fencing is $166,700 and real estate is $5,723,540 for the solar farm property, located just north of CR 300N on U.S. 41.

Council attorney Josh Reshey told the council on Monday he sent out a letter recently to Cypress Creek Renewables requesting information on the abatement’s memo of understanding.

“(The memo of understanding) lays out the expectations the county has for the solar farm,” Reshey explained.

One item in the memo of understanding addressed the solar farm’s nameplate capacity, or the intended full-load sustained output of a facility. Reshey said he checked online and they have the correct nameplate capacity. 

Another item addressed having a local contractor take care of any vegetation or weed control.

“I’ve heard they have a local guy, but I don’t know who that is,” he said. “And I have requested they confirm that.”

According to Reshey, the memo also includes wording when they did the installation, they were supposed to advertise for bids locally and attempt to hire locally. 

“It was kind of vague language, frankly,” he said.

Also, if they were to sell or convey the property there were certain conditions about who the buyer could be in terms of financial ability. 

“I sent out a letter requesting documentation confirming to us that they have in fact met those conditions in the memo of understanding,” Reshey said. “I haven’t received a response. I don’t frankly expect to receive a response.

Reshey said what Cypress Creek Renewables is required to do is to file a CF1 form, or Compliance with Statement of Benefits Personal Property, by May 15.

“That’s what we missed the window on last year,” he said. “You have a period of time to ask them to come in for a hearing on the abatement. They filed it timely, but we as a council responded too late.”

Once the CF1 is received, the council must give notice to conduct a public hearing.

“Basically that’s an opportunity for them to come and say ‘Yes, we have abided by the terms of the memo of understanding and here’s our supported documentation’ or to come in and say ‘No, we haven’t, what are you going to do about it,’ he said.

“I believe it's 30 days to respond to the CF1. This is all controlled in by Indiana law, Indiana statutes.”

Council president Duane Wampler expressed concern they could miss the deadline again due to timing of scheduled meetings.

“The 30 days is our response time,” Reshey said. “All we have to do is say we want to have a hearing. That can be our response. We don’t have to make a decision to approve or disapprove. We just want to hear more.”

Wampler said the CF1 was not responded to until the end of June last year, about 10 days too late to do anything.

Reshey also addressed the type of solar panel required in the memo of understanding.

“I reviewed the memo of understanding and there’s nothing in there saying it has to be a rotating panel or anything like that,” he said. “So I think, my assumption, that was part of the negotiation. But whatever reason, it’s not in the memo of understanding.”

Councilman Tim Abrams suggested for any future tax abatements, if a property changes hands, the council should be able to reserve the right to continue the abatement or say it is null and void.

Reshey said that would be part of the negotiation phase.

“That might save a train wreck down the road,” Wampler said.

The council agreed to leave their options open to call a special meeting or wait until its next scheduled based on timing of receipt of the CF1 form.

More information on Monday’s council meeting can be seen in a future edition of the Times.

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