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Salem Streetlight Fee Begins: New $2.80 Charge Coming on August Utility BillsSalem-News.com
Fernandez said city officials are reluctant to ask residents to pay more (than $2.80/month) at this time.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Salem residents will notice an increase in their city utility bills next month, but the rising cost has nothing to do with water or sewer service. Instead, it's the city's solution to pay for lighted streets.
Starting in August, the city's new streetlight fee will appear on water and sewer bills. Single-family households will pay $2.80 per month. Other groups, such as industries and public institutions, will pay different amounts.
Revenue collected from the fee will provide about $1.8 million a year for the city's streetlight program. All money raised from the fee will go into a fund dedicated solely for the operation of the streetlight system.
Postcards will be sent to city utility customers in mid-July to inform them about the new fee. While it might seem odd to include the streetlight fee as a charge on sewer and water bills, city officials have an explanation.
Here's the logic:Streetlights are a utility, so it makes sense to include all city utility charges on one monthly bill. A separate billing for the streetlight fee would greatly increase administrative costs.
The fee will cover all streetlight operations, including electricity cost. The city also plans to add new streetlights and install light-emitting diode lights, better known as LEDs, to reduce energy costs.
The city fully expects to hear from residents who live in areas without streetlights and resent having to pay a streetlight fee. City officials hope to counter those complaints by stressing that lighted streets benefit everyone.
"Streetlights provide an extra element of safety for driving," said Kevin Hottmann, a city traffic engineer.
"Cars have headlights, but there are a lot of bikes and pedestrians out there."
In March, Salem City Council approved the new streetlight fee after holding a public hearing. City staff requested the streetlight fee to plug a hole in the public works department's budget.
Before the streetlight fee was approved, road repairs and streetlights had been funded out of the same dwindling pool of gasoline tax revenues. Reducing spending on streetlights wasn't an option for safety reasons, so pavement maintenance had to suffer the brunt of budget cutting.
"It's hard to turn off streetlights," Hottmann said. "What gets cut is maintenance."
Salem residents are being encouraged to request new streetlight locations. Those areas having the highest need, and receiving the greatest benefit, will be the first to get new lights.
Due to the new streetlight fee, the city has funds to install about 60 to 70 new streetlights per year. That compares to the five or six new streetlights the city had been installing in an average year.
Even with the additional streetlights, however, the city will only be able meet a small portion of the demand. Streetlights are usually placed about 150 feet apart to meet national lighting standards. City officials estimate that about 1,760 additional streetlights would be needed in Salem to meet the national standard.
Salem Public Works Director Peter Fernandez said the city's long term goal is to provide streetlights on all streets where residents want to have them, although reaching that goal may be a lengthy process.
Installing new poles at a faster pace would require a higher streetlight fee, Fernandez said, and city officials are reluctant to ask residents to pay more at this time. The financial plan for the streetlight fee is to maintain the initial rates for at least five years, through 2020, he said.
To help low-income households, where even a small increase in the utility bill is a burden, the city offers a discount program.
The Sewer Rate Assistance Program discount available to low income senior or disabled head-of-household customers was recently increased from $9 a month to $11.80 a month. The city expects about 500 low-income households in Salem will end up paying a little less on city utility bills.
Residents who want to request a streetlight installation, or who have questions, can contact city staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Public works staff can also be reached at 503-588-6211.
More information can be found at cityofsalem.net/StreetlightFee
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