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Village seeks energy grant

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In the interest of supporting energy conservation measures, Village Council members agreed at a special meeting on Friday, Dec. 11, to sign the Village on as a municipal sponsor of a grant proposal to develop an affordable home retrofit process for energy efficiency. The Village will support Community Solutions and an area business in the application for federal stimulus grant money, which if awarded, will need further action by Council to participate in the program.

Community Solutions and One Call Now, a bulk notification service company in Troy, are working to develop a pilot home retrofit process to make homes more energy efficient at a cost-effective level. They are applying for a $1 million–$5 million stimulus grant under the Energy Efficiency Conservation block grant program, which is expected to notify recipients in March. The program requires that the grant be submitted by a local government agency or by a local nonprofit authorized by the local government. Community Solutions has agreed to be the nonprofit that will write and administer that grant, as well as manage the program once it starts, Community Solutions Director Pat Murphy said during the Council meeting.

He also said that supporting ways to reduce energy consumption is the right thing for the village, which would be taking a timely step as world leaders grapple with the energy crisis and global warming at the climate summit in Copenhagen this month.

“In the meetings in Copenhagen today, people are talking about the fate of the world — [with this program] we’re making a contribution to the world and to the country, and we’re building a reputation for Yellow Springs,” Murphy said.

Under pressure to act quickly on an application that was due this past Monday, Council president Judith Hempfling and members Lori Askeland, John Booth and Rick Walkey voted in favor of a resolution to support the grant application. The endeavor supports Council’s goal to reduce the village’s carbon footprint, they said, and, according to the interpretation of Village Solicitor John Chambers, the Village will still have an opportunity if the grant is awarded to evaluate the proposal and vote on whether or not to participate. Village Council member Karen Wintrow voted against the measure, citing her concern with the haste of the decision and a lack of detail on liability issues and how the municipality would benefit directly as a partner.

Hempfling and Askeland also expressed some hesitation, but felt that the risk at this point was justified. “Especially after Chambers’ interpretation, I have lots of questions, but I feel comfortable supporting [a program] that could result in jobs in the community and has the potential to serve Council’s goal to lower our carbon footprint,” Askeland said at the meeting.

The Village Energy Task Force vetted the proposal earlier in the month and recommended that Council support it. The development of the retrofit model takes advantage of a unique set of area scientists and business partners and promises to be a solution that people all over the country could use, ETF representative Jerry Papania said at the meeting.

“It looks like a great opportunity if we’re fortunate enough to be one of the recipients of the grant,” Papania said.

From the perspective of Leib Lurie, the partner who owns the notification service, the model aims to bring the cost of retro-fitting an average home from $12,000 to under $1,500, so that it can be widely used by homeowners across the country. In addition to Community Solutions and One Call Now, the group of partners also includes Troy-based Dancraft Construction and Net0Home, a Yellow Springs energy audit business co-owned by Bob Brecha, a faculty member at the University of Dayton whose research has focused on energy consumption.

Wintrow raised a concern that the Village would be using public resources to support a private business endeavor, and villager Gerry Bello stated his dislike at creating a cookie-cutter process that would pressure local and area builders to perform the same formulaic work, and thereby take the art and enjoyment out of their craft. And villager Anne Bohlen asked whether the grant would cover the costs of job training to implement the retrofits, to which Lurie replied that other money would have to be leveraged in order to train the workforce necessary to perform the volume of retrofits they hope to conduct.

Rose Pelzl asked if other municipalities had been approached as a sponsor. According to Lurie, the group had approached the cities of Troy, Piqua, Tipp City, Dayton and Miami County, all of which had told the group it needed several months to consider the proposal.

Village fined

Last week the Village incurred a fine when a local resident filed a civil complaint for scheduling this special meeting before the meeting could be publicized in the local newspaper. The complaint was filed on Monday, Dec. 7, and that same day, a Greene County Municipal Court judge ruled that the Village had violated the spirit of the Ohio Sunshine Law by scheduling a public meeting without properly notifying the public. The Village was fined $500, and leaders also agreed to adopt more detailed regulations on scheduling and publicizing its governmental meetings.

The complainant, Gerry Bello, indicated in an affidavit that the Village ETF had scheduled a special meeting without giving citizens a chance to attend. The special meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2, so that the ETF could consider the pilot grant proposal before Village Council’s regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Dec. 7. The grant proposal required Council’s approval as a municipal partner before the submission deadline on Monday, Dec. 14.

The Ohio Sunshine Law requires municipalities to publish notice of public meetings in the local newspaper at least 24 hours in advance of the event. The Village notified the Yellow Springs News on Monday, Dec. 7, 48 hours before the special meeting; however, because the paper is weekly and does not arrive to most villagers’ homes until Thursday, the magistrate found that the notice was insufficient, Cundiff said.

“Having a weekly paper constrains us…but there was no intent on the part of the village to circumvent the law,” Cundiff said.

As a result of the magistrate’s ruling, Council did not discuss the retrofit grant proposal as anticipated at its regular meeting on Dec. 7, and instead, scheduled a special meeting on Friday, Dec. 11, to consider it. At that meeting, Council President Judith Hempfling spoke about the Village’s intent.

“This Council has made a strong effort toward open governance, and our interest continues to be open and to let citizens be aware of when we have special meetings,” she said.

Council has on its agenda for Monday, Dec. 21, to discuss ways to strengthen its notification policies.

*See page 4 of this week’s issue for letters regarding this issue.

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