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Businesses missing out as county drags heels

by Daily Inter Lake
| January 8, 2023 12:00 AM

Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law the Commercial Property Assessed Capital Enhancements program, known as C-PACE, following the 2021 legislative session. The financing offers Montana businesses the chance to use savings from energy and water efficiency upgrades to cover the cost of installation. The cost of the upgrades — which can range from new HVAC systems and boilers to solar panels and lighting — is repaid as an assessment on the property’s annual tax bill. The arrangement stays with the property even if it’s sold, according to the Department of Energy, creating a long-term investment opportunity. What’s more, the program is tax neutral with no financial exposure to cities or counties.

It’s a really smart program that more than 38 states have already tapped into, and not surprisingly there’s ample interest among Flathead Valley businesses to make the program available locally.

All it takes is for a local government — municipality or county — to establish a C-PACE district and businesses can start reaping the rewards. Eight Montana counties are already on board, including Yellowstone, Missoula and Gallatin counties.

Kalispell was quick to react after hearing a presentation on C-PACE last month, approving a resolution of intent to implement the program in the city.

Yet, for unexplainable reasons, Flathead County commissioners have refused consideration of C-PACE, even brushing aside a recent petition from the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce urging the county to implement the program. Twenty-seven businesses signed the letter, including major employers like Applied Materials, Logan Health, Glacier Bank, Flathead Electric Cooperative and Immanuel Lutheran Communities.

Kalispell Chamber President Lorraine Clarno personally lobbied the commissioners at their Dec. 20 meeting, noting that the chamber represents some 700 businesses. Not having access to C-PACE is putting local businesses at a competitive disadvantage, she said.

Still, the commissioners’ response remained the same — silence.

The topic was brought up yet again Wednesday, this time in front of the governor himself at an event organized by the Kalispell Chamber. When asked about the commissioners’ stubbornness on C-PACE, Gianforte reiterated that it was a “tool to help businesses” and that people should continue to let the commissioners know they’re interested.

“You have the commissioners’ phone numbers,” Gianforte told the audience.

It appears that’s what it’s going to take to get the attention of commissioners Brad Abell and Pam Holmquist, who remain steadfast in their disinterest. In fact, Abell told the Inter Lake he needs to be personally contacted on the matter — a petition and testimony from the chamber president simply won’t do.

“I want specific business owners to come to me,” Abell demanded.

Holmquist, meanwhile, says she’ll stick with a wait-and-see approach. No need to move quickly on this opportunity to benefit local commerce, it seems. All the while, businesses in Belgrade, Billings and Bozeman are cashing in.

The squeaky wheels of Flathead County government grind on. Maybe a few personal phone calls can help grease the way.

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