By Megan Hopps
SUN PRESS Newspapers
A group of Champlin residents let the city council know their opinions regarding the city’s street light utility fee.
Some supported it, others did not, during a public hearing hosted by the city council.
City Administrator Bret Heitkamp gave a presentation regarding the implementation of street light utility fee.
The state of Minnesota declares that it is each city’s responsibility to install, maintain and replace street lights.
“It is an important and expensive city service,” Administrator Heitkamp said. “Street lights play an important role within cities. They promote safe, multi-modal transportation, provide enhancement of land uses, promote public safety and emergency response and enhance neighborhood quality of life.”
Administrator Heitkamp explained that each year, the city council identifies goals and objectives they plan to attain within a two year period. For the years 2013 and 2014, the council made it a goal to establish a street light infrastructure replacement funding program. Heitkamp explained that the street light utility fee will only cover the energy costs. This means that residents will be charged $3 per month to cover the cost of turning the lights on at sunset and off at sunrise.
There are 1,500 street lights in the city and 1,100 are city owned. The 400 that are not owned by the city are leased by three separate service providers.
Because most of the homes in Champlin were built in the mid 80s to late 90s, most of the street lights in those developments are wooden or fiberglass poles.
In 2011, a couple of the old wooden poles rotted away and collapsed. These lights were leased and the service provider that leased the structures told the city that they would not replace those lights moving forward, bringing this issue to a head.
WHY A FEE?
There are two distinct funding plans for the street lights: the operating costs and the costs to replace the infrastructure.
The $3 service fee will cover the cost to run the lights, regardless if it’s a 30-year-old wooden pole or a brand new aluminum one. There is a proposed one percent tax increase for 2015. This will be set aside for the infrastructure and this will be the fund that replaces all old light poles with the new city standard pole. In order to do this, the city needs to set aside $700,000 each year for 20 years.
Why a fee and not a tax? There are parcels of the city that do not utilize street lights including Elm Creek Park Reserve, the Schmidt Wildlife Management area and undeveloped parcels that do not yet have street lights. Because it is a fee, this allows the city to eliminate the areas that do not utilize this city service.
Mayor ArMand Nelson then opened up the public hearing for comment from residents.
“Are we going to LED?” resident Mike Galante (Yates Ave) asked. “Are we doing something other than fiber glass poles?”
“Yes, we are moving to a metal pole,” Administrator Heitkamp answered. “They are not LED, but they are convertible to LED. The reason we’re not jumping into LED to begin with is because of cost reasons.”
Resident Dale Wench said, “There are certain neighborhoods out there that have one street light per block, and the newer ones are lit much better, they look nicer and I’m sure it’s much more effective when it comes to crime. I think $3 a month is a good buy, but on the other hand there should be some evaluation of total street lighting assets and who benefits from it.”
“We need to live within our budgets,” added resident Mike Galante (109th Place). “It’s our responsibility within our own homes, within the federal government, the state and our local governments. It’s only $3, but it’s still $3. There’s always going to be something that needs to be fixed, rectified or replaced. I don’t see a need for an extra fee.”
Resident Karen Latia adds,“I’ve lost a lot of faith in the city tonight. I can’t believe there hasn’t been a funding plan in place for the lights when you’ve known the lights have a life expectancy of 20 years. It seems like a real oversight to me.”
Lastly, resident Matt Kelly said, “First of all, I’d like to say that I’m really grateful for the conversation tonight. We moved here in 2001. We have two kids, both of whom, I think unbeknownst to them, have great opportunity and access to our neighborhood because of the street lights that we have. Quite honestly I think they’re part of a public service, in the same way I think the fire department is. It keeps our kids safe when they’re out at night, it keeps me comfortable with the folks that are walking through our neighborhood and it’s really been the only way that we could find some folks that were in our neighborhood that probably shouldn’t have been there.”
Contact Megan Hopps at firstname.lastname@example.org