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ClimateSmart loans expected to stimulate county economy
[February 19, 2009]

ClimateSmart loans expected to stimulate county economy

(Daily Camera (Boulder, CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 19--BOULDER, Colo. -- On Tuesday, all eyes were on Denver, where Barack Obama touted the benefits of a green economy before signing the $787 billion stimulus bill. But even closer to home, Boulder County commissioners are preparing to sign-off on the details of a $40 million program that promises its own green stimulus.

Voters in November passed county Issue 1A, authorizing the government to sell bonds to fund loans to homeowners who want to make energy-efficient upgrades -- which, in turn, should get idle construction crews back to work.

On Thursday, county commissioners will hold a public meeting to review proposed details for how the loans will be administered.

"We definitely see this as a boon," said Julie Herman, executive director of the Boulder Green Building Guild. "It is an economic stimulus that will help keep local people employed, which helps to keep dollars in the community." In January 2008, there were four construction workers in the Colorado job-placement database for every one construction-related job opening, according to Workforce Boulder County. This month, there are 17 workers for each available construction job.

County officials estimate that the program will create about 800 new construction sites in the county this year. And because the loans cover a wide range of upgrades -- from replacing old furnaces to insulating attics to installing solar panels -- the money should reach a wide range of workers, Herman said.

And in the current economy, where credit is hard to come by even for the most-qualified borrowers, program coordinator Ann Livingston expects a flood of loan applications.

"I've been getting a lot of phone calls," she said. "And more than 200 people showed up at the December (loan) workshop." Anyone who owns their property and who hasn't been delinquent on property taxes over the last three years will likely qualify, since the loans will be paid back as part of the individual's property taxes. That way, if a person moves, the loan stays with the house.

Interest rates on the county's bonds, and therefore on the loans, will likely be higher than a year ago before the economy crashed, but for some people -- those who may not have a large home-equity line or other low-interest options -- it may be the best choice.

And in some cases, the amount homeowners save on their energy bill each year may be more than the payment they owe on their loan, saving them money from the start.

Assuming that no major changes are requested by commissioners, the county will likely run workshops on the loan in March, take applications in early April, sell the bond in late April and allow homeowners to begin work in early May.

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