Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte cast the deciding “no” vote Jan. 30, saying he was uncomfortable with a proposal to have Clay County join the Missouri Clean Energy District.
“While this may be a well-meaning addition, I see it as an overreach for government,” said Nolte, who joined Western Commissioner Gene Owen in opposition.
Luann Ridgeway, the Eastern Commissioner, cast the sole “yes” vote.
Had the ordinance passed, it would have meant that property owners in Clay County — residential and business — would have access to loans made available through PACE, the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program. The loans would target improvements and repairs that enhance energy efficiency, including roofing, siding, windows and doors, and solar panels, among others.
Ridgeway offered an amendment at the county commission’s Jan. 23 meeting she said might allay fears that the loan program was untested. PACE loans, part of a public-private partnership, were introduced in Missouri in 2011 when the 95th General Assembly passed the Property Assessment Clean Energy Act.
Ridgeway amended the initial county proposal with a sunset clause that would have allowed the county commission to revisit the program if it wished on Jan. 31, 2020.
“A couple of other counties are looking at Clay County to set a reasonable model for this,” Ridgeway said. “I think putting a sunset in there is a good safety precaution and I look forward to supporting it.”
In voting to oppose, Owen said the PACE loan program had not been in use long enough to convince him to support it.
“I think it needs to be tested before we approve it,” he said.
John Maslowski, a spokesman for the program, said that 80 or so Missouri cities and counties had already affiliated with the Missouri Clean Energy District.
Under the program, loans funded through private investment would have been available to Clay County property owners.
The owners would be required to have the work performed by approved contractors that affiliate with RenovateAmerica, the local for-profit company administering the program in Kansas City.
Currently, the cities of Kansas City, North Kansas City and Excelsior Springs, as well as Jackson County, have opted to join Missouri’s Clean Energy District.
A sticking point for Nolte, Clay County Collector Lydia McEvoy and state collectors is that the Missouri statute requires that loans be repaid through special assessments included on the property-tax bills of people who borrow money.
Although McEvoy refers to RenovateAmerica as “the gold standard of this industry,” like Nolte she said she is uncomfortable with collectors serving as “a collection agency” for a for-profit enterprise.
“I personally wish we’d never be collecting a tax-equity homeowner’s bill,” McEvoy told the commission Jan. 23. “Personally, I think it’s ridiculous.
“This is not a personal attack on RenovateAmerica. I would like to see real safeguards put in place before Clay County signs onto it.”
Others have charged the loan program amounts to a “last resort” option for property owners who don’t have the means to borrow money from a bank or mortgage company. But Maslowski, the vice president of market development for RenovateAmerica, disputes that.
“This is really not a last resort option,” he said, noting that 40 percent of participants in the loan program fall in the middle-income bracket.
McEvoy said that as a special assessment, the loans would stay with a property, even if a borrower decides to sell. That would inflate the selling price of the affected properties and make them harder to sell, she said.
McEvoy said roughly 80 collectors who met with RenovateAmerica officials in Jefferson City oppose the loan program, largely because the state statute that regulates it specifies collectors shall collect the loan payments.
“My real concern is that this is the first time where we’ve added an assessment to a tax bill where the money is paid to a private contractor,” McEvoy said.
Should a borrower fail to pay the special assessment, McEvoy said she’d be required to charge both interest and a late fee and, if necessary, sell the property in a tax sale.