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Commission keeps streets lit as staff researches options

By Staff | Oct 7, 2009

Various street lights will remain on after the Lee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to have staff continue looking into alternative options to reduce the budget by $420,000 before streets go black.
According to a county document prepared in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, the “Lee County Department of Transportation will be turning off selected street lights in county jurisdiction arterial roads in an effort to reduce the operating budget and keep property taxes low.”
The document also indicated that “turning off these 3,318 lights will save approximately $420,000 per year in power and maintenance costs and avoid a $70,000 increase in the operating budget.”
Commissioner Frank Mann questioned county staff during Tuesday’s meeting on whether there are any alternatives available other than “just shutting off the lights.”
“This caught me by surprise even though it may have been a part of our internal budget,” he said.
“It is very discerning for us to be out there and find out, guess what? There are no lights,” Commissioner Tammy Hall said. “Then we come back and find out that we approved this without realizing it and that’s a mistake on our part.”
Mann said he was not aware of the proposal to turn the lights off.
“These are major corridors and it’s going to be, frankly, embarrassing to the county of Lee to have all of these major corridors go dark,” he said. “I think this needs to be a priority. Can we not find some more lower priority items to package to where we can find $420,000?”
Hall noted that when they were discussing the budget for the fiscal year there was a concern about “are we turning lights off and if that’s going to be a budget reduction.” She said the issue got glossed over.
“I remember it being brought up, but no one really said anything, and there was kind of a comment or sidebar by the commission saying, ‘We don’t want the lights to be turned off on roadways,'” Hall said.
“It’s embarrassing to find out that we are taking down lights on major arterial streets,” she said. “It’s very discerning from the standpoint of how much money are we saving from turning off the lights, and is there anything else that would be less of a priority that we could change to keep the lights on and keep the budget neutral?”
“Maybe we can reduce the number of lights as an alternative,” Commissioner Brian Bigelow said. “We have to be aggressive in realizing where the savings are. We have to look at priorities when we spend money.”
“This is part of why we are going into the strategic planning process, this is exactly why,” Lee County Manager Karen Hawes said.
She added that there are “a lot of complexities of the budget and we probably could have done a better job in communicating exactly what streets” were going to go dark.
“I know they (street lights) were in the budget process, but when you’re reviewing a budget with the size of ours, sometimes you just miss things,” Hawes said.
She told the board that the staff will provide additional information regarding alternatives to shutting off the street lights at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We won’t shut the lights off over the next week,” Hawes said, adding that the $420,000 will have to come from somewhere, or it will have to come out of the reserves fund.
County-owned lights in Cape Coral that were going to be turned off between signalized intersections included the Midpoint Bridge corridor from west of McGregor Boulevard to east of the Del Prado Boulevard overpass, the Del Prado overpass at Veterans Parkway from Veterans adjacent to the Coralwood Mall to the De Prado westbound onramp, and the Cape Coral Bridge from west of the toll plaza to first landfall on the Cape side.