The exhausting wrestling match with Luminant to decide its Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant’s fair taxable value is over – at least until next time.
A recent multiyear compromise agreement led to Luminant’s deposit last week of $17,249,640 in tax payment for Somervell County’s 2015 fiscal year.
The compromise meant that for 2015 the Comanche Peak plant itself had a value of $1.7 billion, while the fuel and supplies were valued at approximately $200 million. The total was roughly $2.1 billion, according to Wes Rollen, chief appraiser for the Somervell County Appraisal District.
Luminant released an earlier statement that the compromise was an acknowledgement of “Comanche Peak’s lower valuation from sustained low wholesale power prices and the importance of certainty in budget and tax decisions by local governments in Somervell County in negotiating this settlement.”
The agreement brought an end to Luminant’s court challenge, a lawsuit against the county that failed in district court before moving to the appellate court level in Waco.
The tax payment to come from Luminant for 2016, which has not yet been announced, is due by Jan. 30.
“There is an amount that’s been established for 2016. The plant and nuclear fuel were slightly under $1.6 billion,” Rollen said. “The nuclear fuel varies from about $120 million to $180 million.”
The Somervell County Appraisal Review Board had assessed the 2016 value at approximately $1.868 billion. Luminant claimed that dropping energy prices reduced the tax value to a mere $261 million.
“The paperwork has been filed, but nothing’s been finalized,” Rollen said of the compromise. “It’s been agreed upon, but we’re waiting for the court. We knew the 2016 value was going to come down some. I think by January we’ll have all that wrapped up.”
Four local entities are heavily dependent on Luminant’s tax payments, which represent approximately 80 percent of the county’s overall yearly tax revenue. They are Glen Rose Independent School District, Somervell County, Glen Rose Medical Center (GRMC), and the water district.
Possibly the most at-risk entity was the hospital. Rumors about its possible demise bounced from one end of town to the other for months.
“We’re relieved that Luminant made the payment for 2015,” said GRMC Board President Ray Reynolds. “It allows us to get back to what we do best, and that’s taking care of our patients.”
Reynolds noted that this is only the fourth year of existence for the local hospital district.
“We’re a (relatively) new hospital district, and we had not had the opportunity to build up reserves for an unforeseen emergency,” he said. “I am pleased that this gives us the opportunity to plan, and build some reserves.”
Reynolds noted that it’s a multiyear agreement, but said he is not yet at liberty to say exactly how long.
County Judge Danny Chambers noted that Somervell County officials planned ahead the best they could while making the necessary budget cuts.
“We had been very conservative, to get us here,” Chambers said. “It’s been a long, hard-fought battle. I’m glad it worked out good for both sides. It worked out very good for the county.”
Many local officials and residents reportedly had been stressing out over the lengthy ordeal, but it was nothing personal for the veteran chief appraiser, Rollen.
He stopped just short of calling it just another day at the office.
“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” Rollen said. “I’ve been in a lot of lawsuits. Dealing with the county, it’s a lot easier because it’s not personal.”
The result being satisfactory to Somervell officials might be labeled as a minor miracle considering the starting deficit.
“I don’t know that I’d call it a miracle, but it definitely worked out more in our favor than we anticipated,” Rollen said. “It’s hard to ever start a sentence with a ‘b’ (for ‘billion’). This is probably the biggest tax litigation in the state.
“Obviously, any time you settle a lawsuit of that magnitude, it’s a relief. For me, it started in March 2015. I don’t know how to describe it in words, to get resolution for something that impacts so many people.”
Rollen said he had faith in the legal system that it would come out the way it should.
“The law’s pretty cut-and-dried on this,” Rollen said. “The only thing unusual about it was the size. We’re always fighting a number. We have to make sure we do everything right.
“I don’t always believe the gap’s as big as it is on paper. It definitely benefits them to give a lower amount than what they believe.
“We went into this believing the number we had was correct. At one point, the difference was $1.5 billion. When you see those numbers, from our standpoint, they definitely are scary.”