Court votes to retain consultant for tax abatement debate

Steve Nash / Brownwood Bulletin
Brown County Courthouse

Over the objection of Brown County Judge Paul Lilly, commissioners court members voted 4-1 Monday to  retain a consultant to assist the county in the debate over granting a tax abatement for posed solar power farm.

Lilly cast a “no” vote as the court voted to retain the law firm of Allison, Bass and McGee.

Commissioner Gary Worley said he had sought information last week from the law firm after commissioners court members heard a presentation from Intersect Power representatives.

“With the greatest respect for Commissioner Worley, I’m not in favor of this project from the very beginning,” Lilly said. “Therefore I cannot in good conscience vote to retain someone for a project that I’m not going to vote for to begin with. That is no reflection whatsoever on Commissioner Worley, who sponsored this.”

Lilly posted earlier on his Facebook page that will vote against granting a tax abatement.

After Lilly made the comment,  Worlery responded, “I think that this court would be remiss if we didn’t look at any possible positive effect that a tax abatement would have for the county — not to just, out of hand, say ‘no.’

“Or, the other way, out of hand say ‘yes.” I think we need to educate ourselves because none of us sitting on this court are experts in tax abatement. I think we need guidance and that’s what Allison, Bass and McGree are going to give us.”

If commissioners court members do end up approving a tax abatement, the consultant’s fees can usually be recovered from the entity requesting the abatement, Worley said.

Commissioner Wayne Shaw said, “we want to end up when the smoke clears doing what’s best for the county. That’s what they elected us for.”

Commissioners court members took no action at their Dec. 7 meeting after hearing a request for a tax abatement for the proposed 3,000-acre solar power project near Brookesmith.

Commissioners heard a presentation from Dale Cummings and Christian Fiene of Intersect Power, who asked commissioners court members to consider beginning the process of approving a tax abatement.

Intersect Power is proposing a 300-megawatt solar project on property within the Brookesmith school district. 

In January, the Brookesmith school board approved creating a radian reinvestment zone and approved a tax abatement.

Cummings and Fiente told commissioners court members more than 300 jobs would be created during construction project and two of the jobs would be permanent. The project would bring  $19.4 million in property taxes to the county and to the Brookesmith ISD, Cummings and Fiente told the court.

Cummings said the model the company is looking at is an 85 percent abatement over 10 years. Agricultural value generated by 3,000 acres is $1,700 a year, Cummings said.

“Over time with an 80 percent tax abatement over the 35-year life of the project, you’d  be looking at $6.7 million in taxes to the county,” Cummings said. But if there was no project you’d be looking at $60,000. That’s what we were trying to say — it’s a big financial benefit to the county.