County approves financing program for energy related projects

County Commissioners voted unanimously during their March 22 meeting to create a county-wide Property Assessed Capital Enhancement program.

The program was established during the 2021 Legislature and allows local governments to “designate an area of the territory of the local government as a district within which an authorized local government official and the record owners of a privately owned commercial or industrial facility, covered multifamily housing accommodation…or agricultural property may enter into written contracts to impose assessments on the property to repay the financing by the owners of energy conservation projects,” as defined under state law.

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Essentially, the program provides low-cost, long-term loans for eligible projects, according to the Montana Department of Commerce.

Commissioners approved a resolution of intent earlier in March to create the PACE program and held a public hearing during their March 22 meeting.

Two people spoke in favor of the program, no one spoke in opposition.

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The resolution approved by the county commission states that the program applies to “the entire geographic area within Cascade County’s jurisdiction.”

Craig Raymond, city planning director, said that means the program doesn’t apply within the city limits since the county doesn’t have jurisdiction within the city. He said that city staff will likely bring a similar resolution to establish the program within the city to the City Commission in the near future.

During their meeting, County Commissioner Joe Briggs said that the county hasn’t yet established their structure for the program so for the time being, he’s the contact for anyone with questions.

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Financing for qualified projects under the PACE program will be provided by qualified third-party lenders selected by the property owners. Those lenders are required to have contracts with the county to service those assessments, according to the county.

Under the lender contracts, the county “will maintain and continue the assessments for the benefit of such lenders and enforce the assessment lien for the benefit of a lender in the event of a default by an owner. Cascade County will not, at this time, provide financing of any sort for the PACE program,” according to the county.

The county intends to use the Montana Facility Finance Authority to serve as the independent third-party program administrator on its behalf, which complies with the PACE guidelines, according to the county.

The PACE program falls under the Montana Department of Commerce, and according to the agency, the program “empowers building owners to save energy and money, communities to create new jobs and local economies to flourish—all without any taxpayer assistance.”

Seth Lutter, associate director of the Montana Facility Finance Authority, said that several projects in the county would benefit from the program and that the developers have already reached out.

Lutter said that two counties, Missoula and Park, had already approved similar programs and six others were in the process of getting approval.

Richard Liebert, a county resident, spoke in favor of the program and said that he thinks it could potentially encourage housing development as another financing tool for developers.