Taxpayers Appeal Wind Turbine TIF Ruling – Again

Sibley, Iowa — After eight months in the hands of a judge, a ruling has finally been made on the taxpayers of Osceola County versus Osceola County and the City of Harris case. But after hearing the ruling, the taxpayers have appealed the ruling again.

The case is in regard to the Osceola County Board of Supervisors’ establishment of a TIF District to provide funds to be used to help finance infrastructure in the City of Harris.

In March 2015, Harris was under an administrative order from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to update its wastewater lagoon, but the city lacked the debt capacity to take on the improvements. As a result, on March 10, 2015, the city sent a letter to the Osceola County Board of Supervisors “asking for help with possibly doing a TIF on the windmills [wind turbines] for infrastructure within the City.” Within a couple of weeks, at a meeting of the board, the Harris mayor “asked that the supervisors consider establishing an urban renewal area including the turbines and city of Harris to help fund needed projects.”

In October 2015, the Board of Supervisors held a Public Hearing on a resolution to establish an urban renewal area, and approve the urban renewal plan and project for the area. The newly-created TIF area was set to include the city of Harris, as well as an area of land upon which a wind farm had been constructed.

The plaintiffs in the case are resident taxpayers of Osceola County and of the Harris-Lake Park School District. They filed a petition for writ of certiorari and declaratory judgment challenging the resolution and the ordinance passed by or involving Osceola County and the City of Harris. In conjunction, the resolution and ordinance established an urban renewal area and an urban renewal plan and divided the tax revenue levied on that area as tax increment financing to fund the plan. The plaintiffs challenged the Supervisors’ actions, claiming they would be harmed as taxpayers. They also challenged the verbal agreement and the Mayor of Harris’s authority to enter into such an agreement without the approval of the Harris City Council.

Osceola County and the City of Harris filed a motion for summary judgment, and the district court granted it, finding that the taxpayers lacked standing to challenge the resolution and that their claims involving the ordinance were untimely. The taxpayers’ petition was dismissed. On appeal, the taxpayers challenged the district court’s ruling and maintained the merits of their motion for summary judgment should have been granted instead.

In their review of the case, while the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the District Court ruling that the taxpayers’ claims were, in fact, untimely, since they were filed prior to the enactment of the ordinance they challenged; the Appeals Court did reverse the lower court’s ruling, saying that the taxpayers DID, in fact, have the standing to pursue the case.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case back to District Court for further proceedings.

Last fall, the parties in the case decided to forgo a trial and have a judge make a ruling based on depositions and exhibits, some of which were entered after the appeals court ruling.

Judge David Lester has now ruled in favor of the defendants — Osceola County and the City of Harris. Judge Lester says that since the other issues have been settled, the only issue still to be decided is if the Mayor of Harris was authorized to enter into an agreement with the Osceola County Board of Supervisors, since there was no written resolution granting that authority.

Lester says that because the testimony of all three individuals present at the February 10th, 2015 meeting was that they intended to confer that authority on the mayor, the council then directed the city clerk to prepare and send a letter to the Board requesting a meeting to discuss those issues, and that the council eventually ratified and approved the verbal agreement, the authority amounted to a voidable verbal agreement. And since neither party to the agreement sought to have it voided and instead ratified it, the taxpayers’ request “for the issuance of a writ of certiorari must be denied.”

But the taxpayers have now also appealed Judge Lester’s latest ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court.