The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 4, 2013

Conneaut could turn off its street light fee waiver

Councilman plans motion to abolish exemption

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — A Conneaut City Council member wants to close a loophole that for nearly four years has allowed dozens of city residents to avoid a $2 monthly street light fee.

Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch said he plans to make a motion at Monday’s meeting to abolish the exemption. “It’s unfair to everyone who pays into the (program),” he said this week.

At issue is a fee begun in 2009 to help the city pay its street lighting bills. Every address is billed $2 each month for the lighting. Not everyone pays, however. If a street light sits 500 feet or more from the furthest-most boundary of a property, the owner can defer payment. The exemption was meant to placate people who complained they were paying for a service they never received.

City officials initially opposed an exemption, saying every resident benefits regardless of location when they drive through a brightly-lit town at night. As a compromise, however, the exemption eventually was added.

Last month, Finance Director John Williams said 154 property-owners had applied for and secured a street light fee exemption. That number would cost the city around $3,700 annually in street light revenue, he said.

Last year, the city had to dip into the general fund to help pay its street light bill, Williams said at the time.

Last month, some council members indicated a willingness to reconsider the exemption. LaRusch said the policy was “ridiculous.” With an ultra-tight budget that threatens to become tighter next year, city officials have been open to ideas that cut costs or raise revenue.

This week, LaRusch said he was unsure how his motion will be received by his fellow members. “We’ll find out Monday,” he said.