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Silicon Ranch Plans Expansions

At last week’s meeting of the Jeff Davis County Board of Commissioners, Joint Development Authority Executive Director Andrea Taylor talked to the commissioners about a request from Silicon Ranch solar energy for more aggressive tax abatements for its stage 5 expansion.
Taylor pointed out that Luke Wilkinson and Matt Kisber from Silicon Ranch were present.
She said Silicon Ranch is one of the largest taxpayers in the community and the company is planning for phases 5 and 6 of the solar energy project. The company is finishing phase 3 and about to start phase 4. Phases 5 and 6 are proposed to be at 107 megawatts each with $85 million investment for each phase. Because of more competitive pricing regarding solar power, the company is asking for more aggressive tax abatements. The abatements approved for phases 3 and 4 were 50% for 17 years. The tax abatement Silicon Ranch is asking for is 65% for 25 years. The Development Authority on the request voted but there were still questions about what was voted upon.
The Authority did vote to go along with what the county had voted on in the past — 50% tax abatement for 17 years.
Commissioner Brad Crews asked Taylor why there were questions about what the Authority voted on. She said, “it was a unanimous vote but I would say there were still a few people, Mrs. Terry Stone, being one, not being in favor of what was voted on.” Mrs. Stone said she didn’t vote. Taylor said, “Silicon Ranch for phases 5 and 6 are going to create about 350–500 construction jobs for each project. The 65% tax abatement that was in question or proposing was approved by officials in Early and Appling counties for an 18 megawatt project. They’ve purchased some of the land for phase 5 and haven’t purchased land for phase 6. They have option on some of the land.
Commissioner Hank Hobbs clarified that the requested higher abatement is only for phase 5.
Commissioner Vann Wooten made a motion to approve the 65%/25 year request and Commissioner James Benjamin second.
But during discussion, Commissioner Crews expressed his concerns about the commission going against the recommendation from a board whose members the commission appointed. The authority had approved the 50%/17 year abatement.
“There’s no need in having a Development Authority if we’re going to take the place of them,” he said. “That board recommended a 50% abatement and I’m going with that board’s decision. If the Development Authority brings back their recommendation for 65% I will consider it but I’m not voting against them.”
County Attorney Carla Powell said the commissioners had to approve or deny the development authority’s recommendation.
Crews made a motion to approve the development authority’s recommendation but the motion failed for a lack of a second.
Attorney Powell said that meant it was denied and the matter should go back to the development authority.
Taylor also discussed an issue a couple of years ago with EP American Footwear which had an issue with a bond that wasn’t issued when they were given a tax abatement. The company had asked at that time for interest and penalties on the taxes to be forgiven. It was discussed and they were told it would be forgiven. They want it to be voted on because of the total 2018 tax interest and penalty is $13,392.17. On behalf of the Tax Commissioner Taylor asked the interest and penalty be waived for 2018.
The commissioners approved the waiver.
Taylor also brought up the branding/marketing campaign discussed during a leadership retreat last year. She said she had gotten funding assurance from the City of Hazlehurst, the Joint Development Authority and the Board of Tourism. She was in hopes of also getting funding approval from the County Commission, Jeff Davis Hospital and the Board of Education to equally share the $31,000 cost of the campaign development at approximately $5,000 each.
The commissioners approved her request.
Mrs. Stone spoke to the Board about the Silicon Ranch tax abatement and thinks everyone needs to work with them. She said over time it’s a 38% average. Commissioner Crews explained that he’s not voting against it, he’s not voting against the Development Authority.
Heather Mims discussed huge potholes on Ira Graham Road that needs] attention. Her son was coming home from his job and hit one of the potholes and busted his rim and tire which cost her $627. She showed pictures of the potholes to the Board and asked for the Board’s help. Chairman Crosby told her to leave her number and they will get back with her.
During public discussion, Taylor presented awards for the Census Coloring Contest for the elementary and middle schools and a Census Essay Contest for the high school. Ms. Taylor explained how important the census data was for the county, saying that the last two censuses Jeff Davis County was only accounted for about fifty percent of the people. Every person missed is worth about $2,500 a year in federal funding, or $25,000 per person over the 10-year life of the census count.
Ms. Taylor recognized Debbie Hobbs who organized the contests.
The winners for the essay from the 9th grade – 1st Sergio Marquez and 2nd Carolina Pena; 10th grade – 1st Joshua Parker and 2nd Christine Herndon; 11th – Aamere Joyce and 2nd Christian Stam; 12th grade – 1st Eli McEachin and 2nd – Ashlyn Bouknight.
Also during public comments, Lisa Taylor said her son’s truck was damaged due to a wash out in the road. She said the road is extremely dark on Morris Williams Road and claimed the wash out was almost up to her knee. There were no markings. Her son busted his tire and wheel and she asked that the county pay some of the damages. Commissioner Hobbs asked her did it happen after the recent heavy rains and she stated it did but it was so dark he didn’t see the wash out. Chairman Ricky Crosby told her to leave her number and the board will discuss it and get back with her.
Halton Jeffcoat was present to speak on a washout at 253 Broxton Highway. He asked who grades the road between the church and nursing home. Administrator Keith Carter explained the county doesn’t grade it because it’s a private drive. He ask the Board about Floyd Road. He and his two brothers own land there. There was a ditch along the road and asked why it had been covered up. The Board told him they would look into it.
In other action, the commissioners ….
…. refused all bids on a truck for the road department and agreed to send out new bid requests.
…. agreed to bid workers compensation and property liability insurance.
…. appointed commissioners Hobbs and Crosby to the new jail project.
…. agreed to close the courthouse on Good Friday.
…. the commissioners went into closed session to discuss personnel. After reopening the meeting, the commissioners agreed to advertise for one week for a clerk and a purchasing clerk.
…. agreed to pay retiring County Clerk Sherri Lytle $200 per diem as contract labor on an as-needed basis until a new clerk is hired and trained.

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