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Archive for Saturday, May 16, 2009

Audit reveals need for improved lighting

7% of street lights don’t work at any given time

A new report shines some light on how much money the city of Lawrence spends on street lights.

May 16, 2009

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The city spends about $35,000 per year for street lights that aren’t producing light, according to a new audit out of City Hall.

The audit of the street light system that is owned and operated by Westar Energy has city leaders vowing to ask questions of the Topeka-based utility.

“It is clear that we need to substantially improve our relationship with Westar, and improve the performance of our street lighting system in the community,” City Manager David Corliss said.

Report highlights

The new report by City Auditor Michael Eglinski examines the 3,500 lights that line the city’s streets. The city pays Westar Energy about $500,000 per year to own, maintain and power the street lights.

But the audit suggested the city should take a more active role in managing the system — or perhaps should even buy the system — to ensure residents are getting the best bulb for their buck, so to speak.

Among the findings:

• At any given time, about 7 percent of the city’s street lights have either burnt-out bulbs or are not functioning properly. The city is charged for those lights even when they are not working because the city’s bill is figured based on a per-light formula, not on actual electricity usage measured by a meter. Eglinski estimated that the city pays about $35,000 for lights that aren’t working.

• The amount of electricity that Westar estimates each light uses is higher than what many other electric companies estimate for similar street lights. Westar estimates a standard street light uses 74 kilowatt hours per month. Eglinski examined the energy estimates used by five other electric companies and found Westar was the highest of the group. The average for the other five utilities was 62 kilowatt hours per month. Eglinski estimates the city would have saved about $12,000 per year, if Westar’s energy usage estimate was closer to the average.

Measuring energy

A Westar spokesman said the utility would work with the city to resolve any issues. Chad Luce, customer and community relations manager for the company, said Westar plans to place a meter on one of the city street lights to get a measure of actual energy used.

“We want to do what is fair,” Luce said. “But we think our numbers are correct, and the other utilities have underestimated it, for whatever reason.”

Luce said he did not dispute Eglinski’s estimate that about 7 percent of street lights may be out at any given moment. But Luce said it will take help from the community to lower that number because Westar does not have the staff resources to check the lights on every street on a regular basis. Instead, the company relies heavily on the city or residents reporting outages.

“We do stand behind our record of fixing problems that are reported to us in a timely manner,” Luce said.

The audit did conclude that Westar about 80 percent of the time repaired problems within three days of the problems being found.

The report, though, suggests that the city should examine the option of buying the system from Westar to gain better control of it.

Eglinski said several cities are buying systems from utility companies in an effort to reduce maintenance and management fees that they pay a utility system. The cities still must pay the utilities for the electricity usage.

Eglinski said preliminary data indicates many cities — nearby, Lenexa has bought much of its system — are saving between 20 percent to 50 percent per year. In Lawrence’s case, savings could be about $150,000 annually, Eglinski estimates.

But buying the system could take extended negotiations with Westar. Luce said the company was open to a discussion, but Westar has never sold a system to a city.

More involvement

If the city doesn’t pursue a purchase, Eglinski said the city should at least take steps to become more involved in monitoring the system. For example, the city does not maintain an inventory of street lights, which is necessary to check whether Westar is accurately billing the city.

The city also may want to lobby the Kansas Corporation Commission to review street light rates. The KCC must approve any rate Westar charges. The rates Westar charges to Lawrence are the same rates the utility charges to about 200 other communities throughout the state.

Some individuals also may have a stake in the outcome. The street light tariff also sets rates for “private area lights” — such as a solitary security light at a farm that does not have a meter. Eglinski found Westar uses an energy usage number for those lights that are much higher than what other companies charge.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the audit at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

Comments

RKLOG 5 years, 5 months ago

"Eglinski estimated that the city pays about $35,000 for lights that aren’t working."

I will change them myself for $25,000.

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Chris Ogle 5 years, 5 months ago

I say we reduce the lighting by 10% and save $50K That's only 3% more than what we are used to. Just delete em...

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cowboy 5 years, 5 months ago

Employee / Licensed electrician to service lights = $50,000 City Boom Truck = $75,000

  • parts inventory
  • office support
  • safety gear / safety training
  • benefits , comp , vehicle maintenence , tools , etc.

Poor audit , poor conclusions

How about auditing the cost of picking up lawn clippings and publish those costs.

How about looking at the plantings in the medians and the support cost of watering those trees , not to mention they have now made it so the mowers cannot just run down the medians but have to hop off the curb to get around the trees on Clinton Pkway.

How about the utilization of street sweepers cleaning "already clean" streets.

How about addressing known budgetary "losers" in city operations like parking enforcement , The T .

How about adding a charge for " special pickups " by the trash department , i.e. appliances , the annual dump by students. These are costly operations and a nominal fee should be applied.

Doesn't the city want the auditor looking "inside" city operations.

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Budgets_Smudgets 5 years, 5 months ago

This is what the new 90,000/yr auditor gets us?

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KsTwister 5 years, 5 months ago

Several years ago I told the city to stop turning off the street lights, they even put motion sensors on some that did not come on until your car passed them. They know this to be true because they had them turned back on Lawrence Avenue and 9th. Go figure. I like to see a curve before I get to it, joggers,pedestrians,children and the like. Nice to know how much we paid for the new ones on Kasold only to have them removed,we sure saved some money there.

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BigPrune 5 years, 5 months ago

If the City charged a fee of $150 per semester per KU student, the costs involved in the lighting of our city would be chump change.

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vega 5 years, 5 months ago

Come on! What's a big deal - we don't need street lights. Everyone who has some business in the street after sunset is up to no good anyway (drinking etc.). Everyone roaming around after 8 PM should carry a flashlight and problem solved, $$$ saved.

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RogueThrill 5 years, 5 months ago

You could repurpose some of those new Kasold lights.

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vega 5 years, 5 months ago

Reticent - you nailed it. Multi - there are flashlghts you can mount on your forehead - aside from tennis it works great for overnight dog poop scooping, a win-win solution for everything.

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howie1 5 years, 5 months ago

No Street Lights=More Crime, people the want to commit crimes hide in the dark. All of the ppl on here that say to turn the street lights off, look at it this way, say you have to go out in the middle of the night and a criminal attacks you, or some person driving misses a curve or turn because there is no light to see the intersection and plows into you. Also if you are a female and want to exercise at night because it is too hot outside during the day so you want to do it at night, but there are no lights= females being more uncomfortable. or a crime outside your house, or someone breaking into your car, you will not be able to identify them because you wanted no street lights, and also 98 percent of the ppl out after 8 are not criminals, i work at night and i could come to your rescue one of these days, and if i actually knew who you were that wanted lights turned off i would pull up next to you and say, sorry there is not enough light i cant help you, have a nice night out here without your light

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Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

In the past we would call the city managers office and report lights out and Mike Wildgen would do something about it. How would Westar respond is the question?

Calling the city department responsible for such a matter usually resulted in nothing done which is why we would call Mike Wildgen. Not only this department but others as well.

Westar is being practical in not being able to know which lights are out. It is up to the consumers to report. Some consumers may not want lights on. However with rape and other violent crimes up lights might help.

Let get some part time to full time solar energy to these lights.

Reading has revealed that city maintaining/building/replacing streets,sidewalks and other utility type services can be done for 30%-50% less than contracting out. Yes in spite of staff and equipment. Why not start here?

Do I trust that electric companies are up front? No way. Manipulating available energy is fraud and from I read this happens in every energy market.

Isn't it odd that one day the city has no money for the things taxpayers want but when it comes buying up the street lights or adding new infrastructure costs to our tax bills they always have money - yes for expanding our tax bills???

Has city hall determined the city can make money off the lights like they do on water and sewer?

If property values continue the downward slide would the city increase the cost of lighting(tax) as a means to make up the loss in personal property tax loss?

Will the city taking over street lights cost consumers more?

Taxpayers need to see some numbers from an outside source or two?

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password 5 years, 5 months ago

The street i live on is not typical of the average street, It's two blocks curving around to the next street and only one street light to be seen. I live on the curve part and the light is down around at the corner. It's very creepy and scary out there in the dark. We have alot of traffic and also alot of kids and elderly people who live in our neighborhood. So a few more street lights would be nice. or at least make the "one" that is here brighter.

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Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

Isn't it odd that one day the city has no money for the things taxpayers want but when it comes buying up the street lights or adding new infrastructure costs to our tax bills they always have money - for expanding our tax bills???

Has city hall determined the city can make money off the lights like they do on trash,water and sewer?

If property values continue the downward slide would the city increase the cost of lighting(tax) as a means to make up the loss in personal property tax loss?

Will the city taking over street lights cost consumers more?

Taxpayers need to see some numbers from an outside source or two?

Which of these out lights are necessary?

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