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Syracuse starts work on sorting out its special lighting districts

via Flickr

The ornate metal street lamps that line downtown or some Syracuse city streets aren’t free to keep on. Property owners are supposed to pay the electric bill, but for decades the city has been. Now, city hall wants to change that.

Business districts and neighborhoods in Syracuse that have upgraded or ornamental street lights are in what the city calls "special lighting districts." Problem is, many of them were put in place decades ago and the city either hasn’t been fully collecting those fees, or hasn’t increased them in decades either.

The city pays National Grid $1.9 million a year to keep those fancy streetlights on but it collects only $200,000 from property owners. Mayor Stephanie Miner wants that gap closed.

Raising fees more than a million and a half dollars will mean "sticker shock" for a lot of residents, councilor Helen Hudson says. "So we’re trying to work it out to where we can it a little easier on some of the folks. Some of the folks are only going up $30, but you have some folks that may go up a thousand," she said.

A thousand dollar annual fee has councilors worried it could hurt resale value on homes along with angering current residents. Some councilors are being realistic, saying it may not be possible to levy the full $1.7 million, at least not right away.

Councilors now have the daunting task of deciding just how much to increase lighting fees and the timeframe for doing so. Councilor Kathleen Joy says that large amount of money does have budget implications, when the city is squeezing every penny it can. "Which could be road improvements, I mean it’s a dedicated special lighting district fund, but it helps on the bottom line of the budget," she said.

Sorting out fees is likely to be a long process. The council will hold a public hearing at 5:30 this evening at city hall to begin those discussions.