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[Video below] Despite objections from taxpayers, Stockdale Independent School District trustees have approved a reinvestment zone for two solar farm projects.
A “standing-room-only” crowd attended a special school board meeting Nov. 28 to participate in a public hearing on the topic.
More than 10 landowners whose properties are located within or bordering the proposed project zone spoke against the proposed zone and the solar farm developments during the hearing. The negative impacts to local wildlife, scenery, and property values were among the many reasons cited by neighbors who were against the zone creation, as well as granting the “tax breaks” applied for by the solar facilities. Also mentioned were discrepancies in the information provided in the applications submitted by the companies, which the landowners viewed as dishonest.
A few citizens also expressed concerns that the solar farms would potentially be sold to CPS Energy in San Antonio at a later date, as that company’s transmission lines intersect the project area. They shared fears that this could mean their properties might eventually be subject to eminent domain seizure by that utility.
Rachel Kibbe Williams, whose family property is within the reinvestment zone, became emotional as she addressed the board.
“I would ask that you not approve this reinvestment zone until they can honestly prove that they have the landowners’ approval,” she said. “Otherwise, you will be responsible for the dishonest manipulation and possible theft of your neighbors’ property and homes.”
Blackjack Plains Solar Project LLC and Novis Renewables LLC had both submitted Chapter 313 applications to the district and the state comptroller’s office for Tax Value Limitation Agreements for solar farm developments. (See “Stockdale superintendent Fuller resigns; trustees consider new Chapter 313 requests,” Wilson County News, April 26, 2022.) Under Chapter 313 of the state tax code, a qualified investment must be located within a reinvestment or enterprise zone in order to qualify for such an agreement; this required the district to designate a project zone within its boundaries in order to consider approval of the applications.
The board entered a closed session to deliberate and consult with legal counsel. When the trustees reconvened in open session, they officially adopted the district’s formal criteria and guidelines for creating a reinvestment zone. Resolutions designating the reinvestment zones for the projects, findings associated with the Chapter 313 applications, and the Tax Value Limitation Agreements were then also approved, but not by unanimous vote.
The zone designation, findings, and agreement for Blackjack only narrowly passed, as trustees Blaine Akin, Sherry D. Lambeck, and Mauro Monita abstained from voting. This caused board President Teri Wolff to have to vote in order for the agenda items to have the majority needed to pass. Monita abstained from voting on all agenda items related to both solar farm projects.
The ability for renewable energy businesses to apply for the school district tax concessions under Chapter 313 is due to expire at the end of this month.
In other action during the meeting, the board approved a resolution supporting a grant for which the district has applied, in order to obtain at least one bullet-resistant shield for the Stockdale City Marshal’s Department.
What is Chapter 313?
A Chapter 313 agreement allows for a school district to offer a tax concession for an energy company, putting a cap on the values the company will pay on property taxes to the school district.
Under Chapter 313 agreements, the companies will pay full taxes on the project properties’ interest and sinking, or debt, portion of school district taxes, but a reduced amount toward maintenance and operations taxes, which support day-to-day operations.