Tardy report? Limited consumer protections? Pasco County fires home-improvement funding agency

Pasco County ends contract with a finance agency criticized by Tax Collector Mike Fasano
Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano
Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano
Published November 28 2018

DADE CITY — Pasco County cut ties with a home-improvement financing agency Tuesday amid criticism it failed to follow rules to safeguard customers or ensure transparency.

The leading critic was Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who recommended the county end its contract with the Florida PACE Funding Agency and its third-party administrator, Counterpointe Energy Services.They are one of four entities doing business in Pasco under the Property Assessed Clean Energy program that finances energy and water-conservation improvements, which property owners repay via assessments on their tax bills.

Fasano said some customers lamented they didn’t understand the long-term commitment tied to the home improvements. A disabled homeowner said his tax bill jumped from $153 in 2017 to $2,871 this year. Another complained when the assessment added $1,981 to her tax bill.

Fasano and Property Appraiser Gary Joiner previously asked the PACE companies to provide disclosure forms to customers spelling out the financial and other obligations of the program. Fasano said all but Counterpointe agreed to do so.

“Why would a PACE provider be afraid to ask their customers to sign this disclosure? Why would they be concerned about it? That’s my question,’’ said Fasano.

Additionally, the agency failed to file an activity report with the county as its contract required, according to the county.

David Schaefer, Counterpointe’s chief operator office, said the company was “fully committed to consumer protections and disclosures’’ and asked commissioners to defer a decision to allow the disagreement with Fasano to be heard by a mediator. Schaefer said the required report to the county had been filed. The report was dated Nov. 13. It was due before the end of 2016.

“That report cannot be cured by now filing, on Nov. 17, a report and saying ‘Sorry, we neglected to provide it.’ They have defaulted on the agreement,’’ County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder advised commissioners.

Fasano told commissioners the customer disclosure form contained “simple things, simple things,’’ as he turned and pointed at Schaefer from the podium. “For this gentleman to say there’s been no dialogue — it’s laughable.’’

Pasco joined the PACE program four years ago, allowing Fasano’s office to collect the assessments accrued by customers who signed up for the home improvements.

According to Counterpointe’s report to the county, 242 Pasco property owners made use of the program, with assessments totaling more than $3.9 million. The average annual assessment is $1,470 for a term of 18 years at 5.58 percent interest.

“Many PACE homeowners who have taken a loan are now realizing the affect it is having on them,’’ said Fasano.

Commissioners concurred and voted unanimously to terminate the contract.

“I think it’s very important to protect our people out there,’’ said Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.