Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)

Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels officially approved new policies related to solar development in the county and discussed the projected 2022 general fund revenues during their Tuesday, Nov. 23 meeting.

The commission’s weekly meeting was held a day earlier than normal due to staffing issues on Nov. 24.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to establish, via resolution, a “Large Solar Facility Development Process” and to adopt “Policies and Procedures for Solar Development Proposals” during Wednesday’s meeting.

Duncan said that Daniels “worked extensively” on developing the policies.

“Dave’s put in a good bit of time to establish these guidelines,” Duncan said. “We’ve reviewed them, and all are in agreement as to this is what we’d like to see. [Daniels] has even had some discussions on the state level with the County Commissioners Association.”

As previously reported, the commission introduced a plan for “designated exclusion zones” for solar development during their Wednesday, Oct. 13 meeting, two days after Senate Bill 52 went into effect.

Senate Bill 52 was introduced “to amend sections … of the Revised Code to permit a board of county commissioners to prevent power siting board certification of certain wind and solar facilities, to provide for ad hoc members of the power siting board and to establish decommissioning requirements for certain wind and solar facilities.” The legislation was signed into law by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Monday, July 12.

According to the bill’s text, one of its provisions is that a board of county commissioners may pass a resolution designating “a restricted area of the unincorporated area of a county,” where a “utility facility” may be prohibited.

The resolution approved by the commission Wednesday was to “provide objective measures and policies by which the Highland County Board of Commissioners will evaluate proposals for development of large solar facilities in Highland County.”

“It addresses the process for us to establish restricted areas,” Daniels said of the resolution. “It establishes a process or set of guidelines that we will take into consideration if we decide to intervene in a project, what those parameters might be.

“It also addresses our position if a project is in two counties and how we will choose a representative to serve on the Power Siting Board. Those are just a few of the things that it does.”

The resolution includes the following:

• A repeal of Resolution 11-96, which designated Highland County as an Alternative Energy Zone pursuant to ORC 5727.75(E)1(c). As a result, “all requests for approval of a qualified energy project tax exemption and statutory PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) will be decided on a project-by-project basis at the discretion of the Board.”

• A “restricted area designation process” for units of local government to “request that the County designate a geographic area within the jurisdiction of the unit of local government as a restricted area.”

As discussed last month, a request for such a designation must be “made via a resolution adopted by the legislative authority of the unit of local government” — a village, city or township — after conducting a public hearing on the resolution. The resolution must include “a map of the proposed restricted area and list of parcels within the proposed restricted area, identified by the parcel number assigned by the county auditor and listing the owner(s) of the parcel.”

The unit of local government is required to notify “all public entities that would receive real property tax, personal property tax or distributions of a portion of a PILOT … within the area proposed as a restricted area” as well as “all owners of real property in the proposed restricted area.”

Additionally, commissioners will require the following from the “unit of local government,” according to the resolution:

“Documentation demonstrating the support for the designation of the restricted area by a majority of the public entities that would receive real property tax, personal property tax or distributions of payment in lieu of tax … signed by authorized representatives of the public entities; and

“Documentation demonstrating the support for the designation of the restricted area by the owners of a majority of the acreage to be included in the proposed restricted area … signed by the person or persons owning the property” or trustee, corporation, limited liability company or other entity.”

“Nothing in the foregoing shall be construed as requiring the Board of County Commissioners to the designate the proposed restricted area as a restricted area,” the resolution says. “The Board shall retain jurisdiction to accept, deny or modify the proposed restricted area.”

• The resolution establishes a policy for “intervention in Ohio Power Siting Board proceedings.” According to the resolution, the commission would “intervene in proceedings … relative to a large solar facility if the proposed facility would: have minimum setbacks of less than 300 feet from modules to dwellings on nonparticipating properties; have minimum setbacks of less than 200 feet from perimeter fencing to nonparticipating party lines; border, on more than two sides, a nonparticipating parcel containing a dwelling; or draw upon the local aquifer for its water supply.”

The resolution says the commission will also “consider any report of the Highland County Soil and Water Conservation District relative to impacts of the proposed large solar facility on soil and drainage” and would “intervene unless the developer … commits to a plan to prevent or remedy damage to soils or drainage, as determined satisfactory in the discretion of the Board of County Commissioners.’”

• For “Geographic Size Reductions,” the commission’s policy is to “consider requiring a reduction of the geography size of a large solar facility” if said facility “would cause the aggregate acreage inside the perimeter fencing of all solar facilities in the township in which it is proposed to be located to exceed eight percent of the total acreage of said township.”

The commission would also make similar considerations if township trustees “request that the [commissioners] require a reduction in geographic size due to the proposed large solar facility’s size interfering with provision of township services.”

• As several solar projects in Highland County border neighboring counties, the resolution includes a policy for “Effect of Proposal in Multiple Counties.” According to the resolution, “if a proposed large facility is to be located in multiple counties,” the Highland County commission will “defer to the county with the largest land area involved in the project.” If Highland County has the largest land area, they will “insist on being the representative county.”

• For solar facilities not subject to OPSB jurisdiction, such as those “having less than 50 megawatts of nameplate capacity,” the commission policy will be to “oppose” such development. An exception is for “projects generating electricity for usage onsite, commonly referred to as ‘behind the meter’ generation.”

• The final section of the resolution says that “Applications for a large solar facility that satisfy the savings clause of Section 4 of Substitute Senate Bill 52 … shall not be subject to the policies and processes provided in this Resolution.”

“In response to Senate Bill 52, we believe that as these projects move forward, there needs to be some clear understanding for both the residents of Highland County and the people that may or may not decide to develop utility-scale solar projects in the county so that they have an idea of what we will and what we won’t expect when they come in and start to do that work,” Daniels said Wednesday.

• • •

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners and Highland County auditor Bill Fawley announced that the total estimated resources for 2022 are $12.4 million.

An overview of the total estimated resources for 2022 provided by Fawley to commissioners Wednesday included the following breakdown: real estate property taxes, $2.1 million; permissive sales tax, $7.9 million; casino revenue, $450,000; local government funds, $400,000; fees, $750,000; and other receipts, $800,000.

The $12.4 million projection for 2022 is $1.3 million over 2021’s projection. For comparison, other recent totals have included $10.6 million in 2020, $10.3 million in 2019 and $10,150,000 in 2018.

Compared to last year’s numbers, the projected casino revenues and fees both decreased, but as pointed out by Fawley, the projected permissive sales tax receipts revenues have increased by $1.1 million from the breakdown provided by the auditor last December.

“Obviously, the biggest increase is the sales tax,” Fawley said. “We’re still trying to maintain a conservative number here, so we don’t have to worry about over-appropriating.”

The permissive sales tax totals for 2021, through November, have already surpassed the then-record $7,500,976.34 total for 2020.

“Our sales tax revenues have been outstanding,” Duncan said.

Britton said he thought 2022 general fund budget plans would be “wrapping up for the county in the next couple weeks or so.”

In other discussion:

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve an Ohio 9-1-1 Local Subgrant agreement contract between the Ohio Department of Commerce and the Highland County Commissioners for the Highland County Sheriff’s Office.

During the Nov. 17 commission meeting, commissioners approved a recording system purchase through Applied Digital Solutions, Inc. after hearing from Scott Miller of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, who serves as the county’s 911 coordinator. According to Britton, the cost of the system is $26,720.84.

Miller said last week “the state has sent out a third round to the state 911 federal grant money,” for which he has applied. If granted, it would be a 60-40 reimbursement, according to Miller.

Duncan said Wednesday that the sheriff’s office has “been awarded that grant,” and the contract approved was for that agreement.

• Britton said that the commissioners office will be closed Nov. 26 due to the holiday and that the commission meeting will again be moved up a day Dec. 7 due to commissioners attending a conference in Columbus Dec. 8-10.

• Duncan recognized local SAY Soccer programs who have been “faring very well,” including state champions from Highland County.

“Congratulations to all those kids and school folks that were involved with that,” Duncan said.

• Duncan wished the community “a happy Thanksgiving and hope everyone enjoys the holiday and a little time off.”

• • •

Not discussed during the meeting, but included on the agenda, were several items of correspondence.

• Willowbrook Solar I LLC notified commissioners that construction on the Willowbrook Solar project is expected to begin on or about Nov. 29, 2021 and continue until approximately December 2022. This is a 150-megawatt project in Highland and Brown counties.

• Highland County Probate & Juvenile Court Judge Kevin Greer notified commissioners of the appointment of Amanda Fitchpatrick as Highland County Humane Society Agent. According to the communication from his office, the HCHS Board of Directors voted to appoint Fitchpatrick as agent during their Oct. 27 meeting. She completed basic humane agent training in 2019.

• Lynn Pierson, Project Manager of the ODJFS Office of Fiscal & Monitoring Services, sent a closure letter for the Highland County 2020 Single Audit. There were no administrative findings.

• Commissioners received an email in support of solar facilities.

• • •

In other action, commissioners approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A budget modification from County – Transfers Out to Maintenance and Operations, Contracts and Services in the amount of $40,000.

• A budget modification within Veteran Services from Travel to Outreach in the amount of $2,250.

• A budget modification within Y-21 DETAC-Prosecutor Attorney in the amount of $5,000.