Williams City Council debates lighting up the west side

Williams City Councilman John Troughton, Jr. said he’s often outnumbered when it comes to making decisions on a five-man panel, but he said he will likely get to say “I told you so” when the city manager comes back in a few months with the cost to property owners to have street lights installed on the west side of town.

The City Council last Wednesday, with the exception of Troughton, agreed by consensus to move forward with a study to see how many households would benefit from a lighting project in the older part of town, and if the owners would be willing to pay for it with an annual tax levy on their property.

Williams officials said they’ve periodically discussed the need for street lights in the century-old residential areas on the west side of Interstate 5, and have come to the conclusion that the best mechanism to add lighting is a Lighting and Landscape District for areas where lighting is most needed.

The process would require property owners to form a special district and approve an assessment fee, the requirement of Proposition 218, the state law that gives property owners a say on property-levied tax increases.

Troughton said he’s dead set against it, and said he didn’t want the city staff to spend time on it. “It would never pass,” he said.

Williams Mayor Charles Bergson said he didn’t want the lighting study just for the purpose of forming a tax assessment district, but for the city to also look for alternative funding sources.

“I had raised this issue a couple of years ago when we discussed lighting on the west side of the city because it is dark, and not so much forming a Lighting and Landscaping District. I’m asking staff to assess the need for lights on the west side and get a rough idea of how many lights and how much the project would cost, and the funding mechanism that we could use to fund adding lights,” Bergson said. “I thought it was at least worth looking into.”

City Administrator Frank Kennedy said he could work with the city engineer, public works, and the police department to identify the areas that could benefit from additional lighting, but that the cost of such a project would be too prohibitive for the city to undertake alone. He said he did think there could be a small pocket on the west side in desperate need for lighting where residents might want to form a small special district.
“We could put a street light on the corner if we wanted to, but it wouldn’t be feasible financially to do that,” Kennedy said. “How do we do that; how do we pay for that are all things that could be determined in the future. I think the obvious one is forming a Lighting and Landscaping District, or special district over there, so that the property owners would be paying like they do on the east side.”

Kennedy said there could be blow back from the property owners, however, because people on the east side knew when they bought their homes that there was an assessment on their taxes to maintain the street lights and landscaping, whereas people on the west side did not.

“It might be dicey, but we can explore it, and put some cost numbers together” Kennedy said.

Troughton said street lights cost between $5,000 and $10,000 each, and that even if property owners approved the same assessment as the east side (currently $179.98 a year), it would not cover the cost of the project.

The Pioneer Review followed up on lighting costs with Charles DuBeau, of My Led Lighting Guide, a New Hampshire-based company that installs commercial and government lighting projects all over the world.

DuBeau said that cities have multiple options for energy-efficient lighting, depending on the style, bulb wattage, and voltage input chosen. Typically, street lights are 100 watts, although lower illumination is an option, he said.

“There’s no need to go crazy,” he said. “You could go as low as 30 watts or as bright as 120 watts.”

DuBuau said in addition to the equipment, the installation cost would run between $2,000, on the low end, to $4,000 for each light.

“The final cost would be between $3,500 to $7,000 depending on style,” he said.
Another factor the city would likely have to consider before adding street lights is the rising cost in utilities, which Finance Director Rex Greenbaun noted earlier in the meeting.
In May, the California Public Utility Commission approved a rate hike for high-energy users. Some users, beginning in June, saw their rates jump from 14.3 cents to as much as 25.8 per kilowatt hour, an 80 percent rate increase. The average rate increase for most residential customers was 19 percent, according to PG&E. Low-income ratepayers faced no rate hike at all.

Troughton said that the older homes on the west side of town that have not had an increase in taxes under Proposition 13, the 1978 tax reform measure that essentially kept older Californians from being taxed out of their homes, would probably see a 40 to 50 percent increase in their taxes if they were to form an assessment district for such a lighting project.

He also noted that the lighting on the east side was installed as part of the requirement imposed on the developers, not on homebuyers.

“The Lighting and Landscaping District over there is the maintenance of it, and I’m not sure if (the assessment) even keeps up with the cost, although it should,” Troughton said.

Troughton said that adding even 10 lights at $5,000 each on streets in just the four-block area where it is most needed would be too cost prohibitive for either the small number of property owners or the city to fund, or both, and therefor felt the cost associated with the study was pointless because there would be “no end result.”

“I think a study is fruitless,” he said. “I think it’s a waste of time. I think it is a waste of our staff’s money. It’s not practical.”

Bergson argued that the study would not necessarily be for the purpose of forming a tax assessment district, but for the city to look for other possible sources of funding.

He gave direction for Kennedy to see where and how many lights would be needed; what the estimated cost of the project would be; how many households would benefit from the project; determine the estimated cost per parcel; and survey the property owners to see if there is enough interest.

Troughton asked for the city staff working on the study to keep track of the time spent.