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Vail Valley green loans get go-ahead

EAGLE COUNTY – Voters Tuesday approved a proposed new loan program that will fund energy-efficient improvements for existing homes.

Voters approved the ballot measure by roughly 53 to 47 percent in an election that brought out only about 26 percent of eligible voters.

The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability had been the main backer of the proposal. Alliance director Matt Scherr said members of the county’s planning staff now have to work to create a program that makes sense financially, for both the county and homeowners.

“This is a good move for Eagle County,” Avon Town Council member Brian Sipes said. “There’s been a continuing push for greater energy efficiency in our communities. We’ve required developers to be more energy efficient. This is a dedicated source of funding for existing property owners.”

If the county creates a loan program, it will probably look a lot like a similar program in Boulder County. Residents there must attend a seminar on making homes more energy efficient. If they’re approved for loans, the projects the loans pay for are repaid through a special assessment on residents’ property taxes. That way, the cost of the improvements is passed on to the next owner when the home is sold.

Critics of the ballot question had argued that homes with those special assessments could be harder to finance and sell than other homes in the same neighborhood. Supporters countered by saying special assessments are a common way to pay for improvements. They also argued that improvements to homes would more than offset higher tax bills with savings on utility costs.

“This represents cash to homeowners, not just increased home value, which nobody believes in any more,” Scherr said.

The loan program also gives residents a chance to pay for improvements without putting up cash up front. Ballot measure supporter Megan Gilman said that can be a big hurdle for a lot of people.

“We’ve been in our home for about two years now, so we don’t have any equity yet,” Gilman said. “This would let us do those improvements.”

Gilman is the co-owner of Active Energies, a solar energy consulting and installation company. She said the loan program promises to bring more work to her business and others.

“This is going to be a boost to the construction industry,” Gilman said.

But, she added, the program will be for people who may not qualify for a home equity loan, but have good credit scores and are able to pay their higher tax bills.

Sipes, an architect by profession, said he probably won’t see much, if any, of the work generated by the program. But he still supports the idea.

“I’d hope we’d see more business for the construction industry,” he said.

First, though, county staff members have to put together a program.

“It’s going to have to meet a number of criteria,” Scherr said. “Does it make sense as far as bonding, being able to sell the bonds and interest rates? And consumers have to buy into it.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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