City council

CHRIS PETERSON of Lincoln (left, standing) speaks to the Norfolk city council Monday night. Council members and city staff are seated six feet apart to comply with social distancing guidelines.

The Norfolk City Council approved a new type of loan program to help develop business and potentially help the environment.

The program, known as Property Assessment Clean Energy Act loans, or PACE loans, allow developers to seek private funding through long-term fixed-rate loans through private lenders to build and install systems that increase energy efficiency, conserve water or utilize renewable energy sources, among many other potential qualifications. The city was required to pass an ordinance to issue special assessment for the loans.

The city would make up for the administrative costs of the program through nonrefundable application and administrative fees.

Chris Peterson, a Lincoln-based business owner and lobbyist, gave a presentation to the council about the program, which was approved by the Nebraska Legislature in 2016. Since the passage of the law, about a dozen cities in Nebraska have approved ordinances to start a PACE loan program and about $60 million in loans have been distributed.

Peterson said he requested the ordinance because there are developers in Norfolk who want PACE loans. City administrator Andy Colvin corroborated that claim, saying that talk of using PACE loans has been discussed more and more over the past few months.

Peterson said most of the projects using PACE funds in Nebraska have been hotels, and there is a hotel project in Norfolk seeking a loan as well. Other projects include apartment buildings and sport complexes, and there is potential for other industries.

"I think one of the sectors that could really benefit from it is manufacturing," Peterson said. "Next to labor, energy is one of those big costs. I think it could really help solve an issue they face every day, which is how to deal with energy costs and how to replace very old items in their infrastructure."

PACE loans cover just about "anything to do with energy," Peterson said. The funds can be utilized to pay for efficient HVAC systems, boilers, lights, refrigeration and renewable energy sources such as solar or geothermal.

Norfolk and other Nebraska cities are also at an advantage over neighboring states Iowa and Kansas, which do not have PACE loan laws.

"If you were pitching a business trying to go to a Midwestern community, perhaps PACE would tilt you over the top," Peterson said.

Mayor Josh Moenning said implementing the loan program in Norfolk would help the city grow and promote energy efficiency.

"I like this idea because it both incentivizes energy efficiency, which we should be doing anyway, and provides a tool leveraging energy cost savings to finance a project," Moenning said.

Because PACE loans don't carry any financial risk for the city, Peterson said, there's no downside to starting the program.

"It's a win-win tool to put in your economic development toolbox," he said.

The ordinance passed unanimously, and city finance officer Randy Gates said there are potential applicants who will begin applying for loans as soon as possible.

The rest of the meeting went by with relatively little discussion.

An ordinance was passed to implement fees for when prohibited items are dropped off at the city transfer station that can't be taken to a landfill.

City attorney Danielle Myers-Noelle said the transfer station staff has seen an increasing number of prohibited items, which takes up their time and resources to safely remove.

The ordinance now establishes a penalty of $10 per prohibited item that has to be sorted.

The council also passed updated health guidelines for sports teams recommended by the governor.

The Norfolk City Council met Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the city council chambers, 309 N. Fifth St.

Members present: Mayor Josh Moenning, Corey Granquist, Jim Lange, Rob Merrill, Thad Murren, Fred Wiebelhaus, Gary Jackson, Shane Clausen and Dick Pfeil.

Members absent: None.

Others in attendance: City staff, two media representatives, two members of the public.

Meeting lasted: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Agenda items:

— The council held a public hearing to consider establishing a clean energy assessment district to be known as the Norfolk PACE District, which includes all of the Norfolk city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction. Chris Peterson gave a presentation about the PACE program. The council approved an ordinance to establish the district, 8-0, on all three readings.

— The council approved an ordinance to vacate a portion of Cottonwood Street.

— The council approved on second reading an ordinance to annex a tract of land near Walters' East Knolls 12th Addition.

— The council approved an ordinance to amending city code to include a new fee for handling items at the transfer station that are unacceptable to transfer to the Northeast Nebraska Solid Waste Coalition landfill.

— The council approved an ordinance amending city code to include a fee for registration and a decal fee for utility-type vehicles.

— The council approved a resolution setting requirements for organizations sponsoring sports teams and recreational events that use city recreational facilities.

— The council approved an addendum to the previous resolution.

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