Garfield County creates Clean Energy Finance District
November 17, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The residents of Garfield County soon will become the residents of a Clean Energy Finance District.
The Board of County Commissioners on Monday agreed to create the new district, with the same boundaries as the county, to provide funding options for those interested in energy-efficiency improvements to their homes and businesses.
The district is to be enacted by a resolution, which proponents said will allow county property owners to “tap a clean energy financing mechanism created by the state legislature” in 2008.
There is no actual financing mechanism to go along with creation of the district, which Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative officials termed “the first step” toward eligibility for state grants and other funding options.
The organization has been looking into creating a financing district since last year, and according to G-NECI director Alice Laird, Garfield County should act quickly to stay in step with neighboring counties. Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties all have created districts, she noted.
And, according to G-NECI spokeswoman Heather McGregor, Eagle and Pitkin counties have won permission from voters to issue bonds that could be used to finance energy-efficiency improvements.
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McGregor stressed that the district is based on “opt-in, voluntary” participation by property owners. Even if bonds end up being the financing tool used in the Garfield County district, she continued, the bonds would not become obligations for all property owners in the county.
“Those who don’t opt-in and borrow money will not see their property taxes go up,” she explained.
Although the mechanism is still being worked out, she said, one idea is to create a format similar to traditional local improvement districts. In that example, she said, a neighborhood forms a district that borrows money to, say, fix a broken sidewalk. Only that neighborhood ends up repaying the loan, not the rest of the community, she said.
Property owners who opt-in and borrow money from the district’s financing fund would in effect repay the loan over the course of, say, 15 years, through their property tax bill, McGregor continued.
The loans, she said, may be attached to the property tax bill by the county assessor or treasurer, or through some other mechanism.
And aside from the societal benefits of increased energy efficiency, McGregor said, “We’re talking about putting people back to work here.” She recited a list of building trades that would benefit from a surge in improvements to homes and businesses around the county.
“I would think that’s something that somebody would place a pretty high value on,” she concluded.
“There has been an overwhelming success in Boulder County” with the district financing format, said Laird, adding that it would be good for Garfield County to get involved to take advantage of “economies of scale” with neighboring counties.
County commissioner John Martin, skeptical about the formation of a district without voter involvement, said that the county “could still join at a later time” with neighboring counties, after putting the question to the electorate.
“It needs to be a ballot issue instead of just a resolution,” he declared.
But Commissioner Tresi Houpt disagreed that the electorate need to get involved at this point, although she acknowledged that any attempt to create a financing mechanism would require voter approval.
“But otherwise,” she said, “it makes great sense to me that we move forward.”
The decision to move forward with the district’s creation was passed by a vote of 3-0, and will be formally before the commissioners again once the county attorney has drafted a resolution.