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Syracuse residents say updated lighting fees go beyond nickel and diming

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Syracuse residents say the way the city is proposing to update billing for ornamental street lights goes way beyond just nickel and diming taxpayers.

After decades of not collecting fees or updating billing on more than a hundred special lighting districts, Syracuse is trying to update its regulation of ornamental street lights, but it means bills for thousands of city resident could skyrocket.

Any street or neighborhood with decorative or enhanced street lamps is in a special district. There are more than 130 of them, some formed decades and decades ago. They cost $1.9 million to lease from the power company and keep on. Currently the city collects just a fraction of that - $220,000 - from residents and foots the bill for the rest. 

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Jim Barr, an executive at Crest Cadillac in Syracuse, speaks at a public hearing about special lighting districts.

Beth Rougoux, in the mayor’s office, says the city is trying to untangle a thorny problem in a fair way.

"This proposal simply returns the responsibly and the cost to those who have and benefit from the special lights," she said. 

But at a public hearing Monday in front of the Common Council, many residents, including Julia Zimmer, said the fees go too far and will discourage city residents.

"If you continue these taxation methods, you’re going to be pushing more people out of the city, you’re going to be reducing the tax that you’re collecting over years and now we’re going to find ourselves in a similar situation in the future," said Zimmer.

"You’re just chasing people away and I don’t understand why you would do that. What kind of city does that to the vibrancy?" added Rebecca Hart, who lives in the city's Meadowbrook neighborhood.

Dave Hicock says it doesn’t seem the city thought the idea out well. "You guys are trying to make up for past mistakes, bad deals, renting things that we shouldn’t be renting from National Grid. It needs to be re-thought out," he said. "This is not where to make money."

The plan on the table is to shrink the number of special lighting districts down to just six, and phase in the higher fees over three years. That would kick in come July, depending on how the council acts.