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City may return some street lights
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McMinnville officials are considering re-installing street lights that were removed from city streets, but Public Works director Bill Brock says the measure will reverse the financial progress that has been made.
Brock said in 2005, revenue from the state for the city’s Street Aid budget began to drop. In 2006, expenditures started to climb. March 2006 was the last time the budget was not completely consumed by expenditures, according to Brock.
“Over the next few years, expenditures exceed the budget,” he said. “We knew we had a problem on our hands.”
According to city records:
• 2006-07 — Budget $240,000, expenditures $280,458.
• 2007-08 — Budget $280,000, expenditures $297,021.
• 2008-09 — Budget $290,000, expenditures $320,633.
Money for Street Aid comes from the state and is used by the city for installation and upkeep of street lights, street signs, paving, and salt to use during winter.
Brock says the Street Aid budget is considered a restricted account, which means property taxes collected by the city are not placed in the budget.
“Property tax dollars are not used in this budget,” Brock said. “If it’s a restricted account or makes its own revenue, it should stand on its own two feet. Water, garbage and street aid are restricted accounts. It’s a matter of dollars and cents. We use what we have.”
Consuming the majority of the Street Aid budget was the cost of street lights.
“In the 2008-09 budget, the street light or traffic light bill took $24,000 to 26,000 a month out of the budget,” said Brock. “In 2009, the city passed the a street light manual and we began the process of removing some street lights. The budget in 2009-10 budget was the first year the budget did not see a deficit. The budget was $250,000. Expenditures were $244,114.”
To balance the budget and make room for paving, which the city had not done since 2000, the street light manual restricted street lights to no more than 400 feet apart. Removed were 1,265 of the city’s 2,600 street lights.
Brock says putting the lights back up would once again consume the budget.
“If we replace all the lights removed from city-owned streets, you are looking at an additional $83,490 a year in the budget,” he said. “We did take some down on state routes. If you replace those, you can tack on an additional $10,000 on top of that. Again, there will be nothing in the budget for paving, street signs, salt.”
Light removal was not a pleasurable experience for anyone, says Brock.
“We didn’t enjoy removing the lights, but it was necessary,” he said. “Expenses were going up, but revenue was going down. We were in the hole every month. We had to do something. The light in front of my house was removed.”
Alderman Mike Neal asked McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton if he has seen an increase in burglaries that can be contributed to the removal of street lights.
“There is no correlation between the two,” said Denton.
Vice Mayor Ben Newman asked about the possibility of McMinnville Electric System using a more energy-efficient bulb in the street lights.
“We do encourage the use of more energy-efficient bulbs, but we have no control over that,” said Brock. “We pay per light and not per energy use, so using more energy-efficient bulbs would not reduce our cost.”
Street lights are not metered. Instead, a rate is charged per light. One light currently costs the city $5.50 a month. The charge can vary from month to month, as it changes with the fuel cost adjustment.
The decision to replace some street lights was put on hold until officials could review the 2009 manual and consider the situation further.