Library district exits energy collaborative
One of the biggest beneficiaries of Garfield Clean Energy’s solar installation efforts and energy efficiency upgrades, faced with fiscal difficulties of its own, has decided to withdraw from the organization.
The Garfield County Public Library District board decided recently to formally end the district’s relationship with GCE, the intergovernmental collaborative that helps both public and private sector entities become more energy efficient and tap “clean” energy alternatives.
“We are having to tighten our belt in many ways, and this was one way we had to look at doing that,” Library District Executive Director Amelia Shelley said.
One concern is an ongoing state withholding of sales taxes to the library district and other sales tax-funded entities in Garfield County related to a five-year-old court ruling involving taxes on materials used in the oil and gas industry.
What began as a refund from tax entities to pay off that settlement has now extended into multiple years of tax withholding as claims are still coming in.
“We still have not seen the end of it, and believe we still have some more money coming out yet in 2015,” Shelley said. “Looking at our 2016 budget, we just decided it was prudent to say we can’t afford the money or the time involved” to remain in GCE.
The library district was a founding member of GCE dating back to 2008, and helped put together the original Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant to form the collaborative.
It has also benefited from solar installations on two of the district’s six library buildings with help from GCE, and has taken advantage of consulting to make its facilities more energy efficient.
Last year, the library district contributed $5,000 to help fund the collaborative’s roughly $340,000 annual budget. It was given a $10 “pass” this year to remain a member of GCE, but even that proved too much of a commitment for the library district.
“We do look to have an equitable parting of ways with GCE, and it is all very amicable,” Shelley said.
Heather McGregor, communications director for Clean Energy Economy for the Region, the nonprofit organization that manages GCE, said GCE hopes to maintain a partnership with the libraries to share information and host events.
“We do still see the library as a great outlet to the community for information about energy efficiency, and we are parting on friendly terms,” McGregor concurred.
But, following the decision last year by the city of Rifle to reduce its funding for GCE from more than $30,000 to just $3,000, it does raise questions about future funding for the organization.
“We are working really hard to figure out other sources of funding for this kind of effort,” McGregor said. “There are a lot of options under consideration, because we understand that general fund contributions (from local government) might not be feasible for the long haul.”
In the meantime, GCE will also look to the remaining nine members for at least status quo, and possibly additional 2016 contributions, she said.
“That will become more clear in the next month or so when we go out to our members and have these conversations,” McGregor said.
Glenwood Springs City Councilman Leo McKinney, who sits on the GCE board, expressed some reservations about increasing city funding during last week’s council meeting.
“My concern is we’re heading to that moment where we are starting to subsidize programs outside our city,” McKinney said. “This program has done a lot of good for a lot of homeowners and a lot of businesses, but we need a funding stream that doesn’t deplete our funds.”
Garfield County, which is funding GCE to the tune of $180,000 this year, will likely continue to be the biggest supporter of the organization, County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
“I am sorry that the library pulled out, but energy efficiency is not necessarily part of their mandate,” Jankovsky said.
Jankovsky said he would like to continue to ensure GCE’s success, especially given its efforts to support the use of compressed natural gas locally and regionally.
Recently, GCE was successful in helping obtain two state energy grants for CNG fueling stations in Glenwood Springs, which is slated to open this fall, and a new one in Rifle that could open by early next year.
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