- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

HARRIS, Iowa (AP) - Residents are criticizing a northwest Iowa county’s plan to use $6.9 million in tax breaks to improve roads around a major egg processor and rehabilitate an old school.

The Des Moines Register reports (https://dmreg.co/1obrU62 ) that the plan Osceola County officials are considering could also force one area school district to raise taxes because tax revenue from 60 wind turbines would be diverted for the projects.

Farmer Al Brueggeman said he’s upset that this plan has been developed with little public input.

“The thing is, this has been kept so quiet,” said Brueggeman, who farms 800 acres of corn and beans near Harris. “There’s been no honesty, integrity or transparency.”

The county board plans to hold a meeting about the plan Tuesday morning, but officials declined to discuss the details beforehand.

Osceola County’s plan calls for using most of the $6.9 million to improve roads around Sunrise Foods facility and a trucking company the egg processor uses. About $600,000 would be used for to renovate an abandoned school building in Ocheyedan that is owned by the Sibley-Ocheyedan school district.

Phil Sonstegard, whose company owns Sunrise Farms, said he didn’t ask for the tax breaks. He just expressed concerns about safety because of the high volume of trucks that go in and out of Sunrise’s plant.

Lake Park-Harris school Superintendent Dennis Peters said if this proposal is approved, his district will lose about $18 million a year in taxable valuation. So the district would have to raise taxes if it wants to maintain revenue.

Peter Fisher, an expert on public financing who leads the Iowa Policy Project, said this proposal is unfair because it benefits one school district while hurting another. And Fisher said it’s not a proper use of tax-increment financing because it would benefit existing businesses.

“The problem is, it’s very difficult for some people to understand this,” Fisher said. “The fact is, it’s being used in Iowa as a mechanism for shifting taxes.”

State Sen. David Johnson said he’s also concerned about whether these tax breaks fit what the state intended, which was to help counties and cities build infrastructure for new businesses and growth.

“It seems like desperate grab for tax revenues,” he said.

Johnson, who is a Republican from Ocheyedan, is also concerned about the proposal to use these funds for the abandoned school in his hometown because he said that should be the school district’s responsibility.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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