ERIE – Neosho County received its first $1 million payment from the Neosho Ridge Wind project Monday.
The Neosho County Commission met Tuesday afternoon with local representatives from developer Apex Clean Energy and operator Liberty Utilities for an update on the wind-powered electric generation facility. Chris Weatherford with Apex gave the commissioners Neosho Ridge hardhats, and David Eaton and Randy Jones with Liberty introduced themselves to the commission.
The payment is the first of up to $1 million annual payments to the county in lieu of taxes during the 10 years the windfarm is exempt, and marks the substantial completion of the project.
Weatherford said Apex and contractor IEA will remain on-site to finish up road work, ditch cleaning and a culvert replacement, weather permitting. He said the road work should be completed next month.
Commissioners ap- proved an amendment to the contribution agreement with Neosho Ridge to accept the first payment as the project is mostly completed, rather than total completion.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners discussed raising the speed limits back to preconstruction levels on roads used for heavy hauling. Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown recommended waiting until Apex completes road work, but County Counselor Seth Jones said he would need
to prepare an ordinance so the vote could be held at the May 25 meeting.
Commissioner Paul Westhoff said he has received complaints from a resident about the wind turbine noise. Since the county has formed an advisory committee for Neosho Ridge, Jones said any complaints could go to the committee, which would refer them to him.
Commissioners also met Tuesday with Matt Godinez of the Chanute Regional Development Authority’s land bank to discuss its participation in the upcoming tax sale May 27.
Godinez proposed that the land bank make bids that could increase the sale value of properties in the tax sale, but Commission Chair Nic Galemore said he felt that would be competing against purchasers.
Galemore suggested instead that if land does not sell, it could be deeded to the land bank.
The goal of the land bank is to take donated property and revitalize it for productive use. Donated properties that owe back taxes would have the debt waived and the donor would receive a tax credit of the property’s value.
“Some of the small lots and things, we don’t want that to be where people park their junk,” Godinez said.
He said the land bank only operates within the city limits, and will want to get the land bank properties on the tax rolls as quickly as possible. Godinez said he has tried to contact several property owners about donating property before the tax sale.
Treasurer Sydney Ball said some properties in the upcoming tax sale keep coming up for sale because they do not sell at previous sales.
Commissioner Gail Klaassen said that because the land bank is fairly new, the public may not know much about it in time for the sale. She recommended the land bank wait until the next tax sale.
Commissioners met with the Chief Executive Officer of Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center, Dennis Franks, Board of Trustees Chairman Bruce Jackson, and attorney Dave Brake to discuss the hospital’s ambulance service and the countywide sales tax that funds it.
Klaassen said the trustees passed a resolution in February about the ambulance service funding, which she felt was still under negotiation with the county.
Brake said since the trustees had nothing in writing aside from the ballot language, they wanted something down in writing on how to handle expenses and revenues.
“We just wanted to document,” he said.
The ambulance service was funded by a 2 1/2-mil levy until the countywide sales tax was approved in 2018. Galemore, who received financial reports Monday, said he is concerned the tax will sunset in six years. He said if voters do not renew it, they could face a 20-mil increase.
“That money will need to come from somewhere in the near future,” he said.
Brake said the hospital has been titling ambulances in the county’s name. The service has five ambulances it uses for 50,000 miles or five years.
Franks said the service needs to order an ambulance this year to be delivered next year.
Westhoff said Labette County has a quarter-cent sales tax to fund ambulance service that is paying to the county.
“Why can’t we do that?” he said.
Brake said as long as the funds go towards ambulances, it is not an issue where board controls the surplus.
Klaassen also said the ambulance service should use the county 911 dispatching.
Brake said the hospital would incorporate the budget concept in its ambulance funding instead of percentages it used previously. He said the issue would go to the trustees at their meeting next week.
In other business, the commission approved a contract with Tri-Valley Developmental Services for 2021 at $60,000 and accepted bids for chip-and-seal oil from Wright Asphalt. County 911 Director Lori Nally received permission to purchase three relays at about $4,000 each.
County Attorney Linus Thuston talked to the board about why he is not able to use Chanute dispatching for access to NCIC and other agencies for criminal background research.
Chanute started its dispatching service separate from the county on July 1, and Thuston said he wants the city to be available as a backup if the county dispatch goes down.