From low-yield to high reward

Jeff vonKaenel

When I was a young lad growing up in Ohio in the early 1960s, it did not make sense to me that, while there were a lot of people who wanted jobs and a lot of work that needed to be done, there were no jobs for people that wanted them. Like other things that did not make sense to me then, I was told I would understand when I got older.

Well, now I am eligible for some senior discounts and I still do not really understand. How come we cannot figure out some way to put more people back to work when we need to fix roads, clean up parks, manage classrooms and so many other things? And what about making our buildings more energy efficient and providing jobs for unemployed construction workers?

Luckily for us, Placer County Treasurer Jenine Windeshausen has a brilliant common-sense solution that could provide thousands of construction jobs for our region, make us more energy efficient, develop our regional green-technology sector and do all of this without requiring any additional government funds. I know it sounds like a goddamn political TV ad, but this is for real. Here is how it works:

As the Placer County treasurer, Windeshausen collects more than 230 different taxes for more than 70 different agencies. This all adds up to a fund of about $1 billion held in low-yield government bonds. That’s right, $1 billion, sitting around, earning about 2 percent interest.

Windeshausen intends to take a small percentage of that $1 billion in government securities and use it to provide low-interest loans for Placer County’s businesses to finance projects such as improving insulation, installing weatherstripping and replacing old heating and air-conditioning units.

It starts with a business getting an approved energy audit. The audit prioritizes how to get the most bang for the energy-saving buck. Then various forms are filled out, the approved contractors do the work and the building owner pays back the loan amount through an increase on their property-tax bill. In many cases, the amount the business owner pays in increased property tax will be significantly lower than the money saved by these water- and energy-saving improvements.

This is a win-win. Commercial building owners improve their monthly cash flow, our region significantly reduces its energy usage, which saves us from having to build expensive new energy plants, and we can get the economy going by putting people back to work.

Windeshausen hopes that the mPower Placer program could be a model for other regional counties to follow. If that were to happen, it could make a huge difference. You don’t have to get any older to understand that.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.