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Mower to use windfall for roads

New wind turbines have been erected west of Dexter this summer as part of the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm.

AUSTIN — Mower County hopes the wind blows in some extra money to help it fix its roads and bridges.

During the June 13 regular session, the county board voted unanimously to designate between $330,000 to $500,000 a year in additional wind energy production money from the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm toward road repairs and maintenance for the next decade.

"This new funding will be available for the 2017 budget," said county Administrator Craig Oscarson. "I believe it was a good decision, as it partially responds to the rural area position on dedicating wind money for roads."

An impasse at the state level over addressing funds for roadways and bridges has counties throughout the state trying to figure out how to pay for road repairs.

"This year as well as the last, the legislative leaders stated this was the year to address the transportation funding deficit," Oscarson said. "You know as well as me that they failed in their mission. This should be a non-partisan issue as constituents from both parties benefit from a quality transportation and transit system."


The Pleasant Valley Wind Farm is projected to generate between $3.3 to $5 million in tax money over the next decade.

Some counties use wind funds for tax relief or for special projects, while others use them for road projects.

Mower has included the wind money it in its operations budget, providing some property tax relief.

"We hopefully have been able to clarify that this wind money has simply not been sitting there, waiting for something to spend it on," Oscarson added.

So far, the county engineer estimated that Mower's annual shortfall over the next decade would be approximately between $6 to $6.5 million per year. The new wind funds would close that particular gap by around $330,000 annually and the half-cent sales tax would further close the gap by an additional $1.5 million each year.

"Even with the half-cent sales tax we will still have a shortfall," Oscarson admitted. "The two new sources of funds would close the gap by about 30 percent, so we still need the state to do their job, but in my opinion, 30 percent is still a significant improvement over what we have now."

Previously, Mower County was looking into potentially implementing a half-cent sales tax to help fund road repairs and maintenance. Conversations are anticipated to be continued at the July 5 board meeting, Oscarson shared.

It's anticipated that the county board will make a decision soon about whether to host a public hearing for the half-cent sales tax. Mostly, the hearing is to acknowledge that the county's road and bridge system is underfunded and the lack of action taken at the state level.


"As the board has not voted to take the next step, your guess is as good as mine," Oscarson noted. "Both parties acknowledge the need and the responsibility of the state, but cannot agree on how to fund these problems as they cannot get out of the way of politics."

The wind money isn't expected to cover all that's needed, county officials said.

"The reality is that a dedication of any of the current wind tax money would result in either a hefty property tax increase, a large decrease in services — if we could even cut that much — or a combination of each," Oscarson said.

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