Businesses are missing out as the county drags its feet

Governor Greg Gianforte signed into law the Commercial Premises Assessed Equity Program, known as C-PACE, after the 2021 legislative session. The funding offers Montana businesses the opportunity to use savings from energy and water efficiency improvements to cover installation costs. The cost of the upgrade — which can range from new HVAC systems and water heaters to solar panels and lighting — is paid off as an assessment on the property’s annual tax bill. The contract remains on the property even if it is sold, according to the Department of Energy, creating a long-term investment opportunity. Moreover, the program is tax neutral with no financial exposure to cities or counties.

It’s a really smart program with more than 38 states already involved, and not surprisingly, there’s a lot of 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 involved, including Yellowstone, Missoula and Gallatin counties.

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

Yet, for inexplicable reasons, Flathead County commissioners have declined to consider C-PACE, even ignoring a recent petition from the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce urging the county to implement the program. Twenty-seven companies signed the letter, including major employers such as Applied Materials, Logan Health, Glacier Bank, Flathead Electric Cooperative and Immanuel Lutheran Communities.

Kalispell Chamber President Lorraine Clarno personally lobbied commissioners at their Dec. 20 meeting, noting that the chamber represents about 700 businesses. Lack of access to C-PACE puts local businesses at a competitive disadvantage, she said.

However, the commissioner’s answer remained the same – silence.

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

“You have the commissioner’s phone numbers,” Gianforte told the crowd.

That appears to be what it will take to get the attention of commissioners Brad Abell and Pam Holmquist, who remain steadfast in their lack of interest. In fact, Abell told Inter Lake that he needed to be contacted personally about the matter — a petition and testimony from the chamber president just won’t do.

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

Holmquist, meanwhile, says he’ll stick to a wait-and-see approach. There seems no need to quickly seize this opportunity for the benefit of local commerce. All the while, the jobs in Belgrade, Billings and Bozeman are making money.

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

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