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Bradford won’t issue federal bonds for dairy

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ANN MARIE AMES
August 5, 2011
— The town of Bradford has been relieved of the responsibility of issuing federal bonds to finance construction of Rock Prairie Dairy.

At the same time, residents have lost the opportunity to vote on the matter.


The town board on Tuesday, Aug. 16, could reverse a vote to issue up to $25 million in federal bonds to finance construction of the Rock Prairie Dairy.


Instead of relying on the town, dairy owner Todd Tuls has applied for up to $15.6 million in bonds from the Public Finance Authority, a governmental entity in Wisconsin authorized to issue bonds to public and private agencies across the United States.


The difference is that when the town in May agreed to issue the bonds, taxpayers were allowed by state statute to petition for a referendum. They did so successfully, and the town was planning a referendum until Tuls changed his mind.


State law does not provide the opportunity for referendum when the Public Finance Authority issues bonds, said Steve Sabatke, a bond specialist with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., formerly the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.


The authority is funded by several national and state municipal associations. Its board of directors are people who are elected officials or public managers. Most of the board members are from Wisconsin.


The authority is a governmental entity, like a city or village, but it is not an arm of the state, said Liz Stephens, program manager for the authority. It does not use public money but collects fees for services, Stephens said.


Residents will not get to vote on the bond issuance, but the Bradford Town Board will, Stephens said. The Public Finance Authority does not make moral or political decisions about projects but simply determines if a project is qualified, she said.


The authority has deemed Rock Prairie Dairy eligible for the bonds as long as the Bradford Town Board approves, Stephens said.


Whether the project is right or wrong for a community is up to the community, Stephens said.


Federal law requires a local municipality to hold a public hearing before the local board votes. The hearing and the vote are expected the same night.


Tuls is seeking up to $15.6 million in Midwest Disaster Area Bonds. The project qualifies because Rock County was declared a disaster area after substantial flooding in 2008. Tuls was not affected, but the bonds are intended as an economic development tool to replace lost tax base, Sabatke said.


Tuls would not get $15.6 million in cash. Rather, he would get a break on the interest on the loan for the $35 million project.


Here’s how it would work.


A bank would buy the bonds and issue a loan to Tuls. The bank would earn interest on the bond. However, the bank would not have to pay federal taxes on the interest because a governmental body, in this case the Public Finance Authority, issued the loan.


Therefore, the bank would be able to charge Tuls a lower interest rate on his loan, Sabatke said.


Tuls said it was easier to apply directly to the finance authority because of the referendum pending in Bradford Township.


“I’m not trying to cause the town board or a committee or even the citizens any more grief—or confusion is maybe a better word—than what there already was,” Tuls said. “I’m just taking a different route.”


Tuls said it makes business sense to seek a lower interest rate on his loan. Town of Bradford resident Tim Bliss agreed, but doesn’t like the fact that such a decision is being made while construction is underway.


“Why is this happening at the 11th hour?” said Bliss, who has spoken against the dairy at public meetings.


Bliss on Wednesday afternoon learned about the change and said Bradford residents will be angry when they get the news.


“It seems to me voters have indicated we want a referendum if there is any kind of bond issued,” Bliss said.


A referendum could have cost the town between $700 and $1,000, Clarke said.


Resident asks judge to review dairy permit

A western Walworth County resident has filed a petition seeking a judge to overturn Rock Prairie Dairy’s operating permit.


On Thursday, Margaret Pulera, who lives on McFarlane Road in Richmond Township, filed the petition against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, according to the affidavit of service.


Pulera lives two miles from the dairy facility and a quarter-mile from a proposed waste spreading site, the document states.


Pulera wants a Walworth County judge to review the wastewater discharge permit the DNR issued in June. She asks the court to consider modifying the permit, including:


-- Increasing the setback from manure application to private wells be increased from 100 to 200 feet.


-- Monthly testing of monitoring wells, as opposed to testing every three months.


-- Changing the nutrient management plan to prevent unused nitrogen from leaching into groundwater or surface water.


-- Recalculating the amount of water the facility will use. Pulera wrote that the 175,000 gallons per day of fresh water used wouldn’t meet the drinking needs of cows, let alone other uses on the site.


-- Independent review of the software the DNR uses to evaluate nutrient management plans.


-- Sampling and analysis of waste prior to each manure application.


IF YOU GO

What: Bradford Town Board meeting


When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16


Where: Bradford Town Hall, at the intersection of Town Hall Road and Carvers Rock Road


Details: As of Wednesday evening, the agenda wasn’t finalized, but here’s the plan, said Clerk Sandy Clarke:


The evening will start with a five-minute meeting of the Bradford Board of Review. Then the town board will host a public hearing on Todd Tuls’ request for Midwest Disaster Area Bonds from the Public Finance Authority. Then the board will meet in open session and could take two votes: first, to withdraw the town’s resolution to issue the bonds, and second, to allow the finance authority to issue the bonds.


To learn more about the Public Finance Authority, visit pfauthority.org.
STORYLINE

What happened? Nebraska dairy farmer Todd Tuls is building the Rock Prairie Dairy on Highway 14 at Scharine Road in Bradford Township. The facility will be Wisconsin’s fourth-largest dairy farm.


What’s new? Tuls changed his mind on a request for the town to issue Midwest Disaster Area Bonds as a means for Tuls to get a better interest rate on his construction loan.


What’s next? The town on Tuesday, Aug. 16, could vote to allow the state to issue the permit. To learn more, visit pfauthority.org.

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