Citing numerous issues, Marco Island City Council rejects PACE program

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
A home with solar panels as the sun beats down.

With other municipalities and counties encountering problems, the Marco Island City Council has decided it is not to the appropriate time to adopt the Property Assessment Clean Energy program (PACE).

The PACE program allows residential and commercial property owners to secure financing to make energy efficiency improvements and increase hurricane resiliency. Property owners would pay back their loans through voluntary assessments on their tax bills.

The program, however, has garnered a lot of negative attention as some homeowners have complained about feeling duped into signing agreement they did not understand.

"I thought that the staff did an excellent job researching this for us," Councilor Charlette Roman said. "I initially looked into this program and other cities had adopted it. It appeared that it was promising for our community but in light of the latest challenges and problems with this program that have occurred." 

Kate Wesner, a representative with Ygrene, the largest PACE provider in Florida, said that a lot of the negative headlines overshadowed the benefits of the program.

After mentioning how hurricane resiliency improvements qualified for the program, Wesner said that septic-to-sewer connections also qualified and would help with water quality issues, which are currently a hot topic on the island.

Wesner said her company also had a 98 percent satisfaction rate. 

Addressing the perception that many homeowners did not understand what they were signing, Wesner told the council about Ygrene's disclosures and follow up calls to property owners to ensure they understand their agreements.

"You have to go through this whole process before we'll allow that contractor to begin work," Wesner said.

Despite Wesner's comments, the council was in agreement that it was not prepared to move forward.

"For the life of me, I can't figure out why Naples and Collier County passed this program," Council Chairperson Erik Brechnitz said. "It was brought to us with the best of intentions. This is about environmental improvement to our structures but like a lot of things our government does, they do not allocate resources very efficiently. As a matter of fact, they intend to misallocate them and provide incentives for them to do that."

Brechnitz compared the program to the Community Reinvestment Act, which resulted in an entire industry of unregulated lenders and the makings of the financial crisis in the country.

In she stating the program offers very little underwriting for applicants, Brechnitz said he visited one of the program's websites and was told that he could be approved in 30 minutes.

Brechnitz also said that the rates charged by the program were higher than traditional lenders and once a house traded hands, mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not accept the loan because "they would be required to take second position."

"There's just all kinds of problems with this program," Brechnitz said.