What happens when a long-time employer and tax funding source is longer an option? Massac County is about to find out.
Tiffany George, executive director of Southern Five Regional Planning District & Development Commission, discussed with the Massac County Commission the funding available through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity during its Tuesday, Jan. 24, meeting.
Gov. JB Pritzker and DCEO launched the Energy Transition Community Grant Program on Dec. 16, 2022. The program is an initiative under the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act that provides funding to communities undergoing a significant energy transition, ie: the state’s 22 coal-fire plants or mines that have closed or reduced operations since 2016. Among those is the Joppa Steam Plant — or Electric Energy, Inc., or EEI or Vistra — which closed Sept. 1, 2022, after serving the community for almost 70 years.
Southern Five submitted a pre-application on behalf of Massac County.
“They put out this opportunity to allow the communities that are impacted to figure out an action plan of how we want to mitigate that loss,” George said, noting the major revenue losses won’t be known for another couple of years when the property tax agreement ends, which DCEO refers to as PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds.
This first year of the multi-year program has a $40 million pot that includes each of those eligible grantees receiving $50,000 to develop their plan for addressing deficiencies or investments that support economic development. The grant to implement those plans begins at $50,000.
“It is my understanding that this is an annual grant for the next six years. The expected start date is May 1,” George said.
“Each eligible entity’s award is going to be $50,000, plus the job loss factor plus the revenue loss factor. They’re going to use their own metrics at the state level to determine what the job loss and revenue loss are. After the original money, the job loss is going to be a third of the funding formula and the revenue loss two-thirds. They also are going to take into consideration any of the PILOT funds or the different agreements the different plants have promised in tax revenues.”
George noted that because the program still has several gray areas — including what the amount will actually look like as it defines eligible applicants as “any local units of government, including municipalities, counties, school districts and other taxing districts within 30 miles of a closed plant or mine” — Southern Five got letters of support from all of Massac County’s taxing districts during the pre-application process.
“It was a really quick turn around so we got everyone we could,” she said. “Ultimately, they will let us know how much we should get before the entire application is due. We can always add additional partners.”
Phase 2 applications are due April 12. George explained that between now and then, Southern Five and the commissioners “will have to figure out the detailed project narrative. We’ll have to compile a list of the stakeholder groups and meet with them to get input on what they would like to see. Ultimately, Massac County is the lead entity and makes the final decisions, but the state wants the plan to be driven from the ideas given by the local stakeholder groups.
“The Phase 2 part of it is going to be very widespread. We’re going to be tasked with nailing down what we really want to look into once we know what kind of money we have. The money can be used for anything from workforce development to tuition assistance, stipends, financial assistance, public infrastructure investments, business retention or relocation grants, marketing, downtown commercial redevelopment, affordable housing, public health initiatives and more. We’ll have to dial down to figure out where our largest focus should be,” she continued. “It’s a big open opportunity, which is good because then it will allow multiple things that money typically isn’t released for. They also want us to utilize investments that may be able to match a federal funding source.”
George said she will stay in touch with the commission as she learns more about the program.
“This initiative will play a key role in delivering a 100% clean energy future in the state of Illinois,” said Pritzker. “The Energy Transition Community Grant Program is a locally focused effort tailored to each community’s unique needs, providing each of them with the tools necessary for a smooth transition to clean energy production.”