Monday, November 17, 2014

Indianapolis Hasn't Installed a New Street Light in 33 Years: Failure Shows Misplaced Priorities of the Ballard Administration

Fox59 broadcast this most interesting story last Thursday:
Marion County has not installed a new street light since 1981, when a moratorium was put in place under former Mayor William Hudnut.

Indianapolis Street Light (from Fox59 Story)
The reason, says Stephanie Wilson with the Department of Public Works, was and remains funding. Marion County currently has 29,000 street lights, and their electric bills cost the city $5.1 million a year. Wilson says funding for street lights comes from the transportation budget.
That means adding more lights would result in less money for roads, sidewalks and bridges. When there is an area in need of more lighting, Wilson says existing lights are reallocated.  
“In conditions where there is either a dangerous area for pedestrians or for drivers, we work with public safety, with IMPD and IFD, and we listen to their recommendations. If it’s needed, we can repurpose existing street lights and place them in areas where they are more needed,” says Wilson.
If a new area is developed, street lights have to be paid for through private funds.
 The Mayor's Office admitted the importance of street lights to crime: 
Mark Lotter, Communications Director for Mayor Ballard’s office, says the city needs more street lights to cut down on crime rates and attract new residents as well.
“We understand that street lights and lighting of public streets and sidewalks is very important to making neighborhoods safer,” says Lotter. “It also makes them more inviting and better places to live.”
Lotter says that a "long term funding sources" have to be identified.  That's Ballard speak for residents needing to open up their wallet and pay higher taxes or fees if they want a city service funded.  That's been the history of Ballard's tenure as Mayor.  Existing revenue sources can always be found for corporate welfare for politically connected developers and  billionaire sports owners, but if residents want basic city services, they need to open their wallets and pay more.

Let's do some basic month.  The current 29,000 in street lights use $5.1 million in electricity every year. That is $175.86 for every street light.  So if the city added a 1000 street lights, that is only an added cost of $175,860 a year. We can't find that in the budget without raising taxes?
Further, the addition of new lights could be used to take advantage of new LED technology that would save on maintenance cost and offers substantial energy savings.  San Antonio converted its 20,000 street lights to LED in 2012.  Forbes last year reported on Los Angeles' retrofit of its street lights with LED illumination, the world's largest such project.  The Forbes article details not only savings, but has before and after pictures showing the LED lights providing much improved illumination.

A few weeks ago, the Ballard administration announced it was converting the city's fleet of cars over to alternative fuel vehicles by using a third party vendor from which the city would rent the vehicles.   As a result of this "green" initiative, the Ballard administration claimed taxpayers would save money, a claim that was easily refuted by anyone capable of doing sixth grade math.  But with LED conversion of street lights, the Ballard administration could actually adopt a green initiative that truly would save the taxpayers money.   Apparently though Mayor Ballard is only interested in things that make money for companies, not in proposals that save taxes.

It will be interesting to see if f Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett picks up on this story. It's an ideal campaign issue.  It's easy to explain the connection between street lights and Hogsett's signature issue, crime.  It illustrates the misplaced priorities of the Ballard administration. Using the LED technology, the conversion of street lights could also be sold as saving the taxpayers money.  It's a win, win, win.

Note:  A company named Leotek produces A Municipal Guide for Converting to LED Street Lighting that has useful information.


Charles D. Taylor said...

Of course, any plan to replace streetlights would likely require an overpriced contract benefiting a well-connected contractor while fleecing Indy taxpayers. That seems to be the way they roll.

Flogger said...

Charles you are correct, in your observation. Key pieces to more street lights would be: an over priced decades long, no-bid contract is let out benefiting some Crony-Capitalist. Then there would be all finders fees, study fees, engineering fees etc., to add in.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I was thinking the same thing, Charles. There is no way the City would ever buy the lights directly and install them. They'd hire an outside vendor who would buy the lights and install them and the city would rent the lights from the vendor. There would be a lot of claimed savings from doing it this way, which numbers wouldn't hold up to any sort of scrutiny. But, of course, the administration would count on the news media in town simply repeating the made up statistics in the city's press release.

Charles D. Taylor said...

I watch Indy city government from a few miles up I-69. I find their shenanigans somewhat comforting in that sometimes I worry that I am too cynical. But then something happens in Indy that convinces me that I'm probably not cynical enough. With you two, I appear to be in good company!

Jon said...

We may have 29000 street lights but 20-30% of them aren't working.