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December 15, 2012

 

Weatherization funds wither

WinterBob Ellis/staff photographer
Ken Powers, left, field production coordinator for the Cortland County Community Action Program, and Max Sammons, director of CAPCO, sort through items at their warehouse on Route 11 between Cortland and Homer. The program’s funding for home weatherization projects is being cut next year and Sammons is bracing for further cuts in future years.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Federal cutbacks to a program that helps winterize homes mean about 10 fewer households in the county will benefit next year from things like increased insulation and more fuel efficient furnaces.
The cuts will result in a nearly 20 percent reduction in funding for the upcoming year, which runs from April 1 to March 31, said Max Sammons, director of energy services at Cortland County Community Action Program.
The county agency’s two main funding sources are the U.S. Department of Energy and the federally funded Home Energy Assistance Program.
Sammons said he has already cut staff and extra expenses and is worried cutbacks will force the program to close in future years.
The program usually gets a minimum of about $300,000 from these funding sources, he said. But that will drop to $250,000 for the upcoming year, he said.
He is concerned more reductions in future years will cause the program to “implode.”
Sammons expects about 60 homes to be serviced with the upcoming contract.
About 70 homes could be served in a typical year, he said.
Additionally, the program has a 2.5-year waiting list at $300,000 funding levels. The list will just increase with less funding, he said.
The weatherization assistance program started in 1976 as a national response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo, which led to a national movement to conserve energy. It is intended to help low-income households manage high fuel costs.
Sammons said CAPCO must not exceed an average of $6,100 on the efficiency improvements on individual homes in any given year. Some homes could require more work than others, however.
“In the end, when you look at all the jobs (projects), the average has to be below $6,100,” Sammons said. “You could have spent $12,000 on one house and $800 on another.”
People qualify to participate in the weatherization program based on income thresholds dictated by HEAP. Households with income levels at or below 60 percent of the state median income are eligible.
The CAPCO weatherization team will then visit a home and decide what needs to be done to increase energy efficiency. For example, holes could be plugged, insulation added to walls and attics, or a new furnace installed.
CAPCO will also provide carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors if needed.
The changes have resulted in households saving as much as 60 percent on utility costs, though average savings are about a 25 percent reduction in heating costs.
Sammons said he had to lay off eight people in June and another three people last week, so he now has five employees, the same staffing level as five years ago. During the years of the federal stimulus package, when the program saw a boost, Sammons said he was operating with 18 people.
He said the amount of households he can serve is “directly proportional” to the staffing levels.
Sammons said he has emailed state and federal representatives like Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld), state Sen. James Seward (R-Milford) and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca), who he said all support the program.
“They are fighting the tide of people who say it’s a waste of money,” Sammons said.
Lifton praised energy efficient measures promoted by the weatherization program. She said investments in energy efficient programs can save tremendous amounts of money in the long term.
She says people should contact their representatives to impress upon them the importance of conservation measures in the area.
“I want the governor and legislators to know they shouldn’t be cutting this area, they should be adding to this critical green area and should be doing more with it, not less,” Lifton said.
She added that the weatherization program also helps the poor and middle class, and that it is a smart investment.

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