By Cathy Ward
Posted Nov. 14, 2015 at 4:36 PMBanning wind farms in Boone County and raiding the county's public safety sales tax funds will highlight the County Board meeting this week.The board will vote on both issues at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Both decisions will have a huge impact on the county's financial future for years to come and will especially affect children, as wind farms could provide millions for schools as they do in numerous counties throughout the state.Board watchers on both topics predict lopsided votes in favor of both the ban on wind farms and the raid of the public sales tax fund as committees have been stacked on both issues by Chairman Bob Walberg.On the wind farm topic, Boone County's current ordinance has a 1,000-foot setback from any structure. The proposal seeks a 2,640-foot setback (eight football fields) from a property line — a huge difference. That would eliminate any wind tower to be built in the county, unless a waiver is given by a private property owner. None has been offered.Those who support wind farms believe in green energy. They believe that property owners have the right to harvest the wind and that all people and taxing bodies in the county will benefit from the millions of dollars this new business will bring.The anti-wind farm group contend wind farms are a safety and health hazard. They brought in so-called experts for 10 months to testify of the dangers, but ironically, despite the fact that we have three outstanding health facilities in our midst, OSF Saint Anthony, SwedishAmerican and MercyRockford, and dozens of excellent doctors with medical degrees, not one person was invited to testify or come and share proof of these supposed dangers.Also, our Boone County Health Board found “no evidence of public health impact” from wind farms.On the subject of raiding public safety sales tax to balance the budget, I believe this is a violation of public trust. In 1999, board members and other supporters of a new jail promised the tax would “finance bond payments only. The statue allowed the county to sunset (end) the tax when the bonds are paid (2018). ”Five years ago, the County Board feared this current raid. We passed an ordinance that decreased the use each year of funds from the tax and stated in 2016 (the new budget year) that only $125,000 would be transferred. We also stated that the tax would end in 2018 as promised.However, this current board deleted the ending date of 2018, meaning this tax could go on forever. They also decided to increase the transfer this year from $125,000 to $875,000.So far, taxpayers had paid $19 million for a jail that cost $9 million, and we still owe $1.5 million.It's interesting that board members will be voting on both of these critical financial issues on one night. On the one hand, a group wants to help bring business and millions of dollars of tax money to our county to help all of our people and help balance our budget. On the other, a group wants to ban this business and create an anti-business climate. It's created the certainty of a costly lawsuit and animosities that will last for generations.
Cathy Ward is a member of the Boone County Board.