By Patricia Beech –
Brother, can you spare a few million dollars?
That could be the question Adams Countians will be asking themselves in the coming months and years as the area’s power-plant tax base is slowly eroding by time and progress.
Duke Energy has sold its interest in the Killen and Stuart power plants to the Dynergy Corporation at a loss of $56 million, and that loss is casting a long shadow across Adams County.
“The plants’ 40-year-old equipment is just not worth what it once was,” says Adams County Auditor David Gifford.
While the devaluation of the property is an acceptable loss for the energy giant as it abandons its once lucrative relationship with a coal-powered generation, Duke’s exit leaves Adams County scrambling to replace a tax base that has supported its schools and many of its social programs such as the Wilson Children’s Home and Developmental Disabilities services.
County schools stand to lose $1.4 million, and sources report that Manchester Local School District is already planning its cuts. However, because state law requires the county to provide public education for its students, much of that loss will be supplemented by public school foundation money which will look to fill the gaps and make sure students don’t fall behind as society demands better educated and technically skilled workers.
According to Gifford, the townships most affected by the cuts will be Sprigg and Monroe in the southern portion of Adams County, but the pinch won’t stop there.
“The loss for the county will be around $200,000 which will effect all the tax levy revenues,” says Gifford, “The Health Department services levy and the Senior Citizens services levy will both be less than expected because of the re-evaluation of the power-plant property, and we have no way of replacing that money.”
In an age when fossil-fueled power plants are becoming as fossilized as the coal that powers them, communities like Adams County are facing a bleak and uncertain future.
“The part that worries me is that Duke, AEP, and DP & L all shared the same equipment, and the devaluation of the equipment that resulted in Duke’s appraisal being lowered so sharply will probably hold true for the other companies,” said Gifford. “Even if they don’t sell, they’re going to ask us to lower the taxes they pay, and the Department of Taxation is probably going to agree with them, and that will be a huge loss for the county.”
Gifford says there were early warning signs that the coal-powered plants had a short life expectancy.
“Back in the 1970’s when I was Deputy Auditor, the companies were quick to tell us that we had dollar signs in our eyes thinking about the money we were going to have in the years to come,” he says. “They said then that the equipment would only last about 40 years because it wears out.
Four decades ago it may not have been unrealistic to imagine that worn-out equipment would be replaced, but it certainly would have been a stretch to imagine that coal-powered plants would go the way of the dinosaur.”