Harris TIF lawsuit continues

A civil case in Osceola County District Court involving tax increment financing and wind turbines near the city of Harris continues to be fought through Iowa’s court system.

SIBLEY—A civil case in Osceola County District Court in Sibley involving tax increment financing — TIF — and wind turbines continues to slowly blow through Iowa’s court system.

In a recent ruling, 3rd Judicial District Judge David Lester sustained part of and overruled part of a second motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants in the litigation.

Summary judgment is a procedural device used to promptly dispose of a court case without a trial. Basically, it is one party’s effort to put an end to a lawsuit.

Al Brueggeman, Dan Breuker, Tom Bremer, Roger Bosma, Mark Dillehay, Randy Rowe, Allen Rowe and Jarrod Wallace — the plaintiffs in the litigation — are resident taxpayers of Osceola County and of the Harris-Lake Park School District, while the county board of supervisors and the city of Harris are the defendants.

The plaintiffs originally alleged that the supervisors during the fall of 2015 adopted an illegal resolution creating an urban renewal area, which includes the city of Harris and nearby property that is home to several wind turbines.

In conjunction, Resolution No. 10-15/16 and Ordinance No. 47 established Urban Renewal Area No. 7 and an urban renewal plan and divided the tax revenue levied on that area as TIF to help fund about $2 million in sewer work in Harris, a town of about 160.

The plaintiffs challenged the actions and claimed they would be harmed as taxpayers.

In his latest order, Lester ruled on three questions, with the most significant being whether a written joint agreement ratified a prior verbal agreement between the supervisors and Harris’ mayor.

During August 2015, the city and the county entered into a verbal agreement in which Greg Spaethe, Harris’ mayor at the time, requested and consented to the supervisors creating URA No. 7 out of land within the city’s boundaries and wind energy conversion property within a two-mile radius of the city.

In his Oct. 11 ruling that denied the plaintiffs’ renewed motion for summary judgment, Lester concluded that:

“The verbal agreement between the city’s mayor and the board was a voidable contract subject to later ratification by the city’s council during its meeting held on Nov. 30, 2015.”

In his more recent ruling on the defendants’ second motion for summary judgment, Lester found that:

“The court finds there is a genuine dispute of material fact whether that verbal agreement was void as a contract entered into by the city’s mayor without authority from the city’s council, and was therefore was not subject to ratification by a later vote of the city’s council.”

Iowa Code Section 403.17(4) allows Osceola County to create URA No. 7 only after the parties enter into a joint agreement with respect to such activity.

“Accordingly, defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on the issue that URA 7 was legally enacted pursuant to a Section 403.17(4) joint agreement agreed to between city and county before the urban renewal area was created,” according to Lester’s ruling.

In March 2015, the Harris city clerk sent a letter to the supervisors requesting the county’s help to implement TIF using wind energy conversion property within a two-mile radius of the city to help fund projects to benefit the city’s infrastructure.

Two weeks later, after discussions with Spaethe, the supervisors voted to help the city establish an urban renewal area to help the city fund infrastructure projects using TIF within the URA.

Lester concluded that, “What is missing from this summary judgment record, as well as those previously presented to the court in this case, is evidence regarding what events led to the clerk sending the initial letter to the board referenced in the findings of fact above or who authorized the clerk to send this letter.

“Moreover, there is no evidence in this summary judgment record to indicate whether the city’s mayor was acting on his own in meeting with the board or whether the city’s council had given him authority to meet with the board, and further what authority the council had given him.”

“. . . this appears to be evidence that is relevant to and possibly dispositive of this particular issue that will have to await presentation at the time of trial, if such evidence exists.”

A non-jury trial in the case has been scheduled for Sept. 12 at the Osceola County Courthouse in Sibley.