Aspen chamber board endorses energy district measure
September 30, 2009
ASPEN – The Pitkin County ballot measure that would create a voluntary loan program for residential and commercial property owners interested in making energy upgrades won easy endorsement Tuesday from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors.
“It would be a catastrophic failure if this didn’t pass,” said Auden Schendler, environmental affairs director for the Aspen Skiing Co., urging ACRA board members to push Referendum 1A’s passage among their various constituencies.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said.
County commissioners placed the measure on the ballot, but state law prohibits county employees from campaigning on the measure. Schendler has taken on a lead role in the campaign, with the Skico’s support.
Pitkin County is seeking voter approval to issue as much as $7 million worth of bonds to finance the program. The bonds would be repaid by property owners who choose to participate, not taxpayers at large.
Commercial and residential property owners would apply for funds to finance renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures. The property owners who opt to borrow the funds would repay the amount plus interest over 15 to 20 years through a special assessment to their property tax bills. If a property changes hands, the debt would stay with the property.
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Ideally, a participant could borrow money to make energy improvements and realize energy savings from the upgrades that offset the debt added to the property tax bill, according to Schendler.
As an added benefit, the projects would put area building contractors, plumbers and electricians to work, he said.
“I’ve actually wracked my brains – why would you not vote for this?” Schendler mused.
Still, he said, campaigners are taking no chances, particularly in trying to make sure voters don’t toss out their ballots in the trash. Pitkin County is conducting a mail-only election this fall for the first time since 1993; ballots will be mailed out next week.
Opposition to “big government” or mistakenly assuming all taxpayers will be saddled with debt could also lead people to vote against the measure, Schendler said.
“This is probably about as small big government as you can be,” he said.
ACRA board member Carol Hood said she heard opposition from one real estate broker who viewed the measure as simply more government and as a way to help employee housing complexes that have failed to save money to make needed improvements.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who has a seat on the chamber board, said he expects some employee housing complexes would take advantage of the program, but he also anticipates interest from second-home owners.
“I hope we don’t write off participation of second-home owners,” he said. “I think the idea of borrowing at a low-interest rate to do this is not lost upon them just because they have an expensive home. I think we should make an effort to involve that sector.”
Energy improvement districts are also being proposed in Eagle and Gunnison counties. Both administration of the program and issuing bonds to fund the districts could be done jointly with those counties if voters in all three jurisdictions approve the ballot measures, said Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley.