LARGO – Is it worth $3,000 to be green?
The Largo City Commission debated the answer to that question last week. The city staff wants to apply to the Florida Green Building Coalition for designation as a "Green Local Government," but it costs $3,000.
"What are we actually getting, other than a certificate suitable for framing?" Commissioner Curtis Holmes asked the staff during Tuesday's commission meeting.
Largo resident Geoff Moakley, a frequent critic of city spending practices at commission meetings, wondered the same thing.
"Buying a certification so we can go tell the world Largo's green?" Moakley said to the commission. "We've got one small government entity greasing the skids of some other unknown government entity that's providing this certificate."
The city staff, with commission approval, has been changing city practices over the past 2 1/2 years in hopes of earning official certification as a green government, a designation that St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa and Dunedin have all attained.
The Green Building Coalition awards bronze, silver, gold or platinum certifications, depending on how well the government uses environmentally conscious methods, as defined by the coalition.
Chas Jordan from the city's public works department told commissioners he's confident Largo will earn at least bronze certification, thanks in part to practices like curbside recycling and energy efficiencies at the new community center.
But Holmes and a few other commissioners wondered why Largo should spend $3,000 to get another organization to certify something that the staff felt to be true.
The Green Building Coalition is a nonprofit that promotes environmentally friendly practices. Suzanne Cook, the coalition's executive director, said Thursday there is more value to the certification than just a piece of paper.
"The main value is that the community has a third-party verification that the claimed attributes are actually being followed," Cook said. "A lot of that (green methods) saves taxpayers' money, so if they're not actually going through the certification process they may not achieve as much as they would on their own."
Holmes was skeptical of the financial benefits of green methods, though, and the staff at Tuesday's meeting didn't have firm numbers for him. Jordan produced a list of green methods later in the week, but did not have savings achieved — except for recycling, which in 2010 saved the city $201,993 in tipping fees at landfills and earned the city $349,264 in recyclable sales.
The new community center has photovoltaic cells on the roof, which Jordan estimates will save the facility 12 to 17 percent this year on power bills. Its low-flow faucets and showerheads and dual-flush toilets should cut water usage 42 percent, he said.
Those factors helped earn the community center rare platinum certification in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. That certification also cost the city an application fee of $2,950.
The commission ultimately approved applying for the state Green Building Coalition certification by a 4-3 vote, with Holmes and Commissioners Mary Gray Black and Robert Murray opposing.
The agenda item explaining the expense said the city staff intends to continue improving Largo's sustainable practices in the next several years in preparation for recertifying, which would cost another $3,000.
Commissioner Woody Brown told the staff he's not interested in seeing the certification process become a recurring fee.
"I just think that accolades coming from bodies that we don't pay money to are much more meaningful in the end," he said.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.