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Residents weigh in on undergrounding

By Staff | Jun 10, 2016

More than 100 North 2 property owners turned out this week to get information about the proposed undergrounding of electrical services they may be asked to pay for.

But after some strenuous objections, most just wanted details and cost information about a concept many liked.

The owners of more than 1,820 parcels will have the opportunity to vote on whether the project will proceed when ballots are mailed out on June 19 but, judging from the way residents reacted Wednesday, at least in the beginning, many have already made up their minds.

Assistant City Manager Michael Ilczyszyn said he got the message from residents that they want a little more information before they commit to such a project.

“In the beginning some emotions came out and there were other things related to the Seven Islands that got mixed in,” Ilczyszyn said. “I was expecting that. There are people who want their objections known.”

Ilczyszyn laid out the specifics of the plan, which would cost between $11.679 million and $15.165 million, or between $6,286 and $8,162 per parcel.

The project would include new lighting for $1.45 million and $2.16 million in communications.

The current poles would be removed, replaced by transformers that can be easily buffered at ground level. The only poles would be for the LED street lights every 180 feet, which proponents say would increase security and safety.

The project would be paid for by a traditional, 15-year bank loan, which would allow for early repayment without penalty.

Ilczyszyn said it would cost between $50 and $60 per month to parcel owners, but could be reduced as new residents come in and possible credits could be found.

Opponents made themselves known. When Ilczyszyn told them the plan would go away if voted against, many in the crowd cheered. There were also laughs and groans when Ilczyszyn explained that North 2 was chosen as the place for the pilot program because of property values and residents can afford to have it added on.

Other opponents said this was being done for the Seven Islands site and even questioned if the city could legally do this according to state statutes.

Another resident didn’t want to waste time with a mail-in ballot, asking simply for a show of hands, to which many voted against the project.

But as the meeting progressed, the real concerns came out and everybody started to listen. They told Ilczyszyn there just wasn’t enough information and known costs. He couldn’t identify how much the credits and other cost-cutting measures would impact the project or impact, if any, development of the Seven Islands would have.

Eventually, some conceded the safety issue, though they also said it would be harder to isolate problem areas in the event of an outage.

Shelley Moore, a Realtor, said it would make the neighborhood look nicer, but the overall cost would be too great.

“If the city did it for nothing, everyone would be for it. If they could lower the cost, there could be some interest,” Moore said. “If all we know is the cost, it will get voted down. If they can get some better credits and knowledge on what they’ll be, another ballot would help.”

“I’ve had to work through a lot of different feelings. But I saw a lot of different opinions I hadn’t considered. I’m feeling better now than I did walking into it,” Sheryl Simpson said. “The people listened and so did I. We just want to afford to live here and I sense the city is trying to keep the costs down. Information is a powerful thing.”

“I think he got a good consensus of what the people wanted and that’s to slow down,” said Mark Lorenz. “It was forced on us to have this vote in 10 days. We need to information and the city needs to do more research.”

Ilczyszyn said he would work with staff to find a way to give North 2 residents the comfort level they need to vote in favor of the plan.

“If city council is voting on something and they say they need more information, we would slow down and get more information. I think that was the request,” Ilczyszyn said.

If residents approve the plan, it would go through the city council, with public hearings and a vote.