The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 6, 2013

Conneaut could rethink street light fee exemption

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — City Council is reconsidering a program that allows dozens of Conneaut property-owners avoid a $2 monthly fee for street light service.

The cash-strapped city is losing thousands of dollars because of the fee exemption legally provided some residents, officials said at Monday night’s council finance/ordinance committee meeting. Some 154 people have so far received the exemption, a figure that will cost the city around $3,700 in revenue annually, said Finance Director John Williams.

The fee was launched in June 2009 to help the city recoup the cost of street lighting. However, also written into the program is a loophole: if the furthestmost boundary of a property is at least 500 feet from the nearest street light, the owner can apply for an exemption.

At the time, council included the exemption as a means to pacify people whose homes are nowhere near a street light and resisted paying for a benefit they didn’t receive. But with money dear, and the city scraping for every dollar possible, council is shining a light on the controversial fee.

Last year, the city had to tap the general fund for nearly $6,400 to help pay its street lighting bills, Williams said, a cost the fee was designed to cover. The shortfall will grow as rates rise and more people seek out the exemption, officials said.

When the fee was first proposed, administrators justified a city-wide payment by saying everyone in town benefits from street lights when they drive through an illuminated intersection at night. Some on council at the time balked, however, and promised support only if the exemption was in the language.

No one presently serving on council was in office when the street light fee became law. Each member will be provided a copy of the program for review. However, some members indicated Monday the exemption may have run its course.

Council President Thomas Udell wondered if people who sought the exemption were motivated more by “principle than (financial) hardship.”

Councilman-at-large Neil Larush dubbed the exemption “ridiculous” and provided a way “for other individuals who sat in these chair to back out of a situation.”