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Commissioners talk Cogentrix-related tax issues

News Editor
   Feb. 6, 2002 -- Two weeks after a similar informational meeting was held in the same fairgrounds building, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners opened a dialogue with local residents by addressing the potential tax impact of Cogentrix's proposed 980-megawatt power plant, then listened to their concerns.
   County Assessor Patsy Mault Hurn passed out a document detailing projected tax impact estimates. Her office estimates that Cogentrix's 38.8-acre plant on a 333-acre parcel would have a taxable value of $3 million but noted that the property will be appraised by the Oregon Department of Revenue.
   The 5-year tax exemption that comes with the facility's location in an enterprise zone could save the North Carolina-based company just less than $3 million. However, the site would remain taxable during construction of the facility, potentially generating $1 million. Following construction and the conclusion of Cogentrix's exemption period, the potential tax obligation of the plant could be approximately $3.5 million annually, county estimates suggest.
   "We got some people talking and thinking of the property tax issue and that was really good," Commission Chairman Mike Ahern said. "We were wanting to share information on the property tax and how it fits into our future with the PGE licensing."
   Taxing districts could see property tax revenue increase by the following amounts annually: Jefferson County General -- $1.05 million (29 percent); Jefferson County Library -- $128,600 (33 percent); Mountain View Hospital -- $73,80 (30 percent); Central Oregon Community College -- $91,700 (15 percent).
   Although educating county residents on potential tax impacts was a main focus of the informational meeting, the topic generated a relatively small amount of discussion once the initial presentation was through.
   Most citizens in attendance voiced their opposition to the power plant and several of them who had spoken two weeks earlier reiterated a myriad of environmental and livability concerns, including air quality, water usage, noise and aesthetic issues.
   Others challenged the viability of the Grizzly Power Project given the changing climate of the power industry. One man, who identified himself as a local PGE employee, said the changing markets "could leave an eyesore on the hill not generating any power."
   Jarold Ramsey told the commissioners, "Do you really think it's prudent to invest the future of Jefferson County in an industry on shaky ground?"
   About seven individuals who spoke in favor of the power plant were greeted with cheers by a small contingent of supporters.
   Jim Waldorf told opponents that many of their criticisms and information they information they'be been circulating were "lies and innuendo."
   "There are a lot of things in the paper (letters to the editor) by local people that just aren't true," Waldorf said.
   Labor concerns emerged as a strong topic among the 200 or so attendees, many of whom identified themselves as union members. Several speakers even suggested they were on the bubble by indicating they would like to work on the project, but would oppose it if local union members were not hired.
   A handful of men constructing an Enron-owned cogent plant in Boardman traveled to the meeting, telling attendees and commissioners they believed Cogentrix would go through a employment agency that hires out-of-state labor.
   "Cogentrix has built a lot of these and they hire TIC, a subcontractor, that builds the plant," said Barry White of Irrigon. "They go down the unemployment line then they bring the rest out of state. We're the ones who are qualified."
   Allan Mills, a union representative, held a Cogentrix newspaper advertisement and said, "This ad should not say, `Let's get to work.' It should say, `Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas -- let's get to work.'"
   The county's board of commissioners has a limited role in determining the fate of Cogentrix's proposal. They are a recommending body to the Energy Facility Siting Council and can suggest conditions to be placed on the facility.
   Commissioner Janet Brown said the commissioners took the labor concerns to heart.
   "That's a business decision, so I don't know what kind of influence we'll have," Brown said. "Those are things we will find out."
   Brown also said she thought the dwindling number of attendees compared to the meeting two weeks prior suggested many people were having their questions answered.
   Mary Zemke, founder of the opposition group Stop Cogentrix, presented a list of suggested conditions to the commissioners she said she and 100 other signatories wished to see placed on the facility.
   Ahern said the commissioners would do what they could to recommend conditions and look into whether they could influence Cogentrix to hire union workers from Oregon.
   "We can lobby that it should be a union job," Ahern said. "The other thing that's becoming clear is that Cogentrix has more work to do. I don't think they're being as comprehensive as they should be but I'm convinced they will."