POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – After much debate and research, the Pound Ridge Town Board has passed a local law that establishes a program designed to provide low-interest loans for energy improvements to commercial buildings.
The loan program is supported by the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium, of which Pound Ridge is a member.
The town already has a NWEAC-supported program through Energize Pound Ridge in which homeowners can sign up for energy audits of their homes and then receive recommendations on how to make their homes more energy-efficient. The new program provides loans for businesses.
Most of the Town Board members said they liked the concept of the program, formally known as the Sustainable Energy Loan Program, but were concerned because the loans would be repaid through property taxes, and if the owner defaults then the town would be responsible for paying off the debt.
“Because there is no precedent for this, I remain concerned, because if someone defaults it could take three to five years for the town to get its money back,” said Town Attorney James Sullivan.
However, Sullivan pointed out that the town could cap and limit the amount of the loans, giving it some measure of protection.
Mark Thielking of Energize New York told the board it could restrict any aspect of the program.
“The average cost of the improvements for commercially owned residential properties is around $12,000,” Thielking said. “You can restrict it by saying the loan can’t be greater than 80 percent of the total value [of the property]. It’s your program. There are about a dozen of these programs operating around the country.”
The board decided to follow Sullivan’s advice and institute caps for the loans. There will be a $25,000 cap for individual loans and an aggregate cap of $100,000. The board could later expand the cap if it becomes appropriate.
The board debated briefly about whether to determine the Pound Ridge business community’s interest in the program before proceeding.
“Do we pass it and then market it, or do we gauge the interest first?” asked board member Ali Boak. “I would really like to see businesses take advantage of it.”
Ultimately the board decided by a vote of 4-1 to approve the local law that will put the program in place. Dick Lyman was the only board member to vote “no.”
“I firmly value the endgame here, but it’s my philosophy that it’s not the role of the government to meddle in the private market,” Lyman said. “Governments in general do a poor job with anything to do with commercial enterprise. The end is not justified by the means. While the risk is infinitesimal for the town, I just don’t see us becoming a commercial bank.”
On the other hand, Town Supervisor Gary Warshauer said the program is something that could further the town’s goal of becoming more environmentally friendly.
“I think our town businesses can benefit from this,” he said. “The restrictions will limit our exposure, and I am very supportive of the program."