by James Coulter
To prevent city homeowners from being forced to pay higher taxes for energy-efficient improvements to their homes, the Lake Wales City Commission voted unanimously to terminate the city’s agreement with a statewide renewable energy program that has received controversy and even litigation from other municipalities in the state.
At their regular city commission meeting on Tuesday evening, City Commissioners voted unanimously on an ordinance to terminate the city’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which included interlocal agreements with the Florida Green Finance Authority, The Green Corridor PACE District, Florida Resiliency and Energy District and the Florida PACE Funding Agency.
The PACE program, according to the city memo, “property owners enter into financing agreements to obtain specified qualifying improvements that are paid through the levy of non-ad valorem assessments on the property owners tax bills.”
In other words, city homeowners could make energy-efficient improvements on their homes such as installing solar panels or energy-efficient heaters, and have those improvements covered by an increase in their tax bill.
However, concerns about similar programs across the state have been raised “due to a lack of oversight and consumer protection”, the city memo further elucidates. One such concern was that the Florida PACE Funding Agency stated earlier this year that it would “no longer follow county or city regulations” and “no longer need to have a county or municipal resolution to issue loans.”
As such, PACE programs are currently being challenged across the state. As the city memo states: “Palm Beach and Pinellas County have initiated litigation with PACE due to the number of liens the program has imposed on residential homes. Several other Florida counties, including Port St. Lucie, have also taken legal action to stop the operation of Florida PACE without an interlocal agreement with the county or a local city.”
The City Commission remained unanimous in their opinion that, while they wholeheartedly supported city residents making their homes more energy efficient, the PACE program was not the best method to accomplish that goal.
“My understanding is the consensus is that [the PACE program] has the potential to harm owners of property by putting finances on their tax bill, which some may not realize what is happening there,” City Attorney Chuck Galloway stated. “So the potential is there for folks to step into a trap of sorts and possibly lose their property in this scenario.”
Commissioner Keith Thompson felt the PACE program gave local homeowners a false sense of security in procuring loans to make such improvements to their homes, assuming that the city or county would step in in case their properties were foreclosed or their property taxes were increased.
“It is one of these things where the goal of renewable energy and putting it on people’s homes, I am all for it, I think it is the right thing to do,” he said. “It should not add a tax on their house, and I think that is the problem.”
City Commissioners motioned, seconded, and voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.