Fine print details: Re-1 returns rebate

'Bummed out,' school district loses $32K

Keywords: Poll question,

When serendipity strikes, it can seem too good to be true. And sometimes it is.

At December's school board meeting, Doug Sparks, member services manager for Empire Electric Association, delivered an unexpected piece of good news: Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 would receive a rebate check, worth $32,439, for energy conservation savings throughout the year.

Board members and superintendent Alex Carter were ecstatic. With tax revenue diminished the last five years, school districts have grown used to cutbacks, so any cash windfall is cause for jubilation.

But it was not to be. In fact, it never was.

Soon after The Cortez Journal ran a story Dec. 27 about the check ceremony - where Sparks and Tri-State Generation and Transmission representative Bill Mollenkopf presented Re-1 officials with an oversized check - chief financial officer Melissa Brunner got a deflating phone call from Garth McCann of McKinstry Corp., the company that installed energy-efficient lighting retrofits in seven different buildings last year.

The message? Sorry, but, give up the money.

Unbeknownst to Brunner, the contract between McKinstry and Re-1 specified that the electrical utility rebate was to be forwarded on to McKinstry.

"It was written into the contract. McKinstry has legal right to (the money) since they facilitated the project and generated the rebate from Empire," Brunner conceded. "I'm glad we hadn't already spent it elsewhere."

The mix-up was an honest oversight, Brunner added, not deliberate malfeasance by anybody involved. It was simply a failure to communicate.

"The contract got passed along from one administration to the next, with people switching out, and nobody mentioned this part of it," she said.

Sparks said he was "not privy" to any contractual details, and that Empire could only legally give the rebate to Re-1, as the entity cutting back its kilowatt use. The electric cooperative had no control over where the money ultimately went.

While returning the funds was a letdown - "a bummer," as Brunner described it - the rebate check would have represented a small portion of Re-1's overall budget. And the district will still reap the long-term fiscal benefits of energy efficiency, she noted.

"We've already noticed a difference in our usage. It's a good deal in the end," she said.

Via a lease purchase agreement, the district will repay the costs of the project over 10 years with savings generated from the upgrades themselves. No extra money is being spent from capital accounts.