Cecil County Chatter: 2002 Legacy Brings New $ Windfall; Thanks, Nelson and Harry

May 6, 2013

Former Commissioners’ 2002 Move Paves Way for Extra Revenues to County Now

Who needs a fading casino when a little-known small power plant near the Pennsylvania state line has been a goldmine of revenues to Cecil County— providing a total of $54.2 million over 20 years? And what could be better than a new expansion of that facility that will bring in a proposed additional $40.7 million?

Some members of the government establishment in Elkton were falling all over themselves recently to try to claim credit for a proposed new expansion of the Rock Springs power plant facility. But if a majority of the old three-member Board of Commissioners had not put the wheels in motion in 2002, there wouldn’t be any cause for political crowing now—and taxpayers’ might have had to foot a much larger burden for basic county government services for the past ten years.

It was in 2002 when a two-member majority—Commissioners Nelson Bolender and Harry Hepbron—agreed to support construction of the Rock Springs power plant, located off Route 222 near the state line. And they negotiated a “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) agreement, covering property taxes and ‘personal property’ or inventory taxes paid by businesses, to lock in a guaranteed revenue stream to the county from Fiscal 2003 through Fiscal 2022.

All told, according to documents obtained by Cecil Times, the 2002 agreement will pump $54.2 million into Cecil County coffers—meaning that local residents don’t have to cover the costs of county government services by that amount. Translation: property taxes eased while community services were increased.

Now the current operators of the Rock Springs facility—Old Dominion Electric Co-Operative of Virginia– have announced plans to expand the site with a new $675 million project, dubbed the “Wildcat Point” power plant, that will use natural gas to provide expanded electricity generation of up to 1,000 megawatts of power that will serve some 390,000 homes a year after it goes into operation in 2017.

A resolution will be presented to the Cecil County Council on Tuesday to revise and extend the previous PILOT agreement for the Rock Springs site, with a subsequent vote on its ratification.

The revised PILOT agreement will extend the earlier arrangement until Fiscal 2035, and add $40.7 million in payments to the county, on top of the 2002 deal’s $54.2 million—for a total of $94.9 million in revenues to Cecil County.

“That was the best deal we ever got for Cecil County,” former commissioner Hepbron (R-3) told Cecil Times. There were a few local residents “and one commissioner” who “fought us tooth and nail” against the proposal. But the dire environmental impacts some opponents claimed did not materialize, he added, in the decade that Rock Springs has operated as a good neighbor in the county.

Hepbron strongly supported the Rock Springs project, and when the ribbon was cut he was asked to speak at the dedication. “I said there’s only one problem here,” Hepbron recalled.

“Some people gasped, wondering what I was going to say. But I said ‘we need more projects like this’,” he said, noting that Rock Springs provided clean energy and made no demands on the county government for services such as schools or police, unlike residential developments.

An added bonus to the new expanded Rock Springs facility will be the potential benefits to several thousand southern Cecil County residents served by the non-profit Choptank Rural Electric Co-operative. Choptank is part of the Old Dominion non-profit rural co-operative network and the new facility could provide lower-cost power to local rural residents.

Choptank is much beloved in rural southern Cecil County for its employees’ and management dedication to customer service due to their non-profit status. But local residents have been forced to pay substantially higher rates for electricity since Choptank did not produce its own power and had to buy power from profit-making companies.

The current Rock Springs facility only kicked in when power needs reached critical, emergency demand levels. But the newly expanded facility will allow Choptank to acquire power at a lower cost than purchasing it on the open market.

Win, win. Thank you, Harry, and the late, much-missed Nelson…

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