Windfarms blow up BV Co. budget turnaround

Monday, March 20, 2006

"Thank God for the windfarms and Rembrandt Enterprises - and eventually, ethanol and biodiesel."

That is how Buena Vista County Supervisors Chairman Bill Lanphere summed up the public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2006-07 county budget this week.

"This demonstrated very much what economic development can do."

Three years ago, the county was in dire financial straights. It had used up its carry-over, and was forced at one point to borrow a million dollars just to make payroll and pay the bills while waiting for the next payment of tax revenue to come in.

With the rural industries coming on line, property evaluation in the county rises by $6 million this year, enough to give the county a modest increase in revenue while passing very little in terms of new burden on to taxpayers.

The budget estimated $14.7 million in revenues, and a positive ending balance of more than $3 million.

"It was almost all due to the windfarm" Lanphere said of the projected revenue increase. A planned major expansion of Rembrandt Enterprises chicken-and-egg facilities, along with an ethanol plant under construction at Albert City and a biodiesel industry planned for rural Storm Lake couples with slightly higher-than-projected local option sales tax and a bit of a rebound in interest rates to create optimism in the courthouse.

"We are breathing a whole lot easier than three years ago," Lanphere said.

The beginning fund balance for the fiscal year is estimated at $275,000, about 18 percent of the budget, more than the county had figured on having this year.

In the past, Farm Bureau was among critics of the county for carrying over large amounts at the end of the year instead of providing tax breaks.

"We need a carry-over," Lanphere stressed at the budget hearing. That cushion allows the county to keep operating through leaner times between revenue streams, and allows for reductions in new money for other areas, he said.

There were no complaints from those gathered for the hearing, which lasted all of 10 minutes - a far cry from the contentious events of some past years.

"I'd like to commend the supervisors for keeping the budget tight," said Ken Hach, local windfarm developer and a candidate for the board.

Supervisors issued a public thanks to the department heads of the county, saying that their efforts at budget-trimming helped to stave off the "bad signs" that plagued the county back in 2003.

The signs look bright for years to come, they added. "With economic development, it is always best not to put all of your eggs in one basket," veteran supervisor Lorna Burnside said. "The industry that we have coming into the county is diversified industry."

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