Lights out on the 2013 street project

Street lights prove to be main sticking point

In an unlikely turn of events, the Champlin City Council opposed moving forward with authorizing the plans and specifications for the 2013 street reclaim and pave project.

The project, which was proposed for an area in the north central portion of the city – bounded by 114th Avenue to the North, 110th Avenue to the South, Quebec Avenue on the west and Kentucky Avenue on the east – was also to include a significant street light upgrade.

The proposed street lights would cost approximately $6,000 per light and $1,000 for each concrete base. The lights proposed were in alignment with the new street light aesthetic standard the city had been developing throughout Champlin for the last few years.

After six months of working through the project and making adjustments to the costs based on resident concerns, administration believed the council had achieved consensus of what they were looking for in the project. However, at the council meeting May 28, several residents spoke opposing the street light assessment cost, which the city had already reduced from the original assessment proposal. According to the current street light assessment policy, property owners are assessed for 50 percent of the cost, which would be $1,551.72. However, city staff worked with the council to come up with the lower assessment rate of $1,000 based on the current lighting system and what the costs had been in previous years. The lower assessment rate still did not please some of the project area residents.

“There is no human cry for street lights in the city,” resident Forrest Elliott said. Another resident, Peter Brown, who has attended several work sessions, council meetings and neighborhood meetings said he thought the city should focus on the main streets with street lighting but should find alternate lighting in the back residential areas. He also commended the council for all their efforts in trying to work out a palatable alternative for everyone.

Resident Kevin Miguel cited the 2012 Champlin survey stating 88 percent of residents consider street lights essential or very important and that 89 percent of residents found the city’s street lighting to be good or excellent. He interpreted this to mean the city needn’t make the proposed street light improvements.

Council member Kara Terry was concerned that the council was trying to use this proposal to create a policy on street lighting going forward.

City administrator Bret Heitkamp explained that there are already guidelines established but any potential changes could be brought back in an amendment to the street light assessment policy sometime in the future.

“I feel like we’re trying to cover two things that should be separate issues,” said Terry.

Mayor ArMand Nelson weighed in stating he believes there is some need for lighting but felt it could be less than what had been proposed.

“I’m voting no tonight because I believe the number of lights and cost to residents and the city overall is too high,” said Nelson.

Council member Eric Johnson, who voted in favor of the project, questioned Nelson about why he voted in favor of past street light projects that had even higher assessment costs to residents but was now voting against this project. Nelson said that spending more time looking at this project has changed his mind.

“Votes where we are spending other people’s money are always very difficult but do require you to make difficult decisions,” said Johnson. “The project is good. The city has worked with the residents probably more than on any other development that’s been done for this type of project. The changes made at resident request have been astronomical.”

Council member Ryan Karasek echoed Johnson’s viewpoint, joining him as the only other council member voting in favor of the project.

“There’s not been a single topic that we’ve worked harder on or discussed so endlessly,” he said. “I know the staff and everybody has worked exceptionally hard to figure out ways to reduce costs to homeowners.”

City Engineer Tim Hanson’s proposal detailed that with the current lighting system installed in the proposed project area, the cost of street lights last year was $1,042, compared to the proposed assessment of $1,000 to property owners in the project area.

Nelson said he did not want to put the project off for a year but was in favor of reducing the number of lights in the project area. Nelson and Terry mentioned they wanted to go back and review the proposal that had only 20 street lights. Hanson said that at that number of lights, the foot candle measurement of light emitted into the neighborhood would be significantly below standards.

Johnson inquired about how delaying the project would affect the timeline. Hanson said his assumption would be that the project would not be able to be completed within this budget cycle if it didn’t move forward now.

“I don’t like being negative but I don’t think it’s possible,” Hanson said. “We’d be running on the back end too far.”

Terry reiterated that she didn’t want to move forward without a consistent policy in place.