West Valley City residents received an additional notice in their utility bills, informing them of a new fee for streetlights.
In April 2021, the City Council approved an ordinance designed to collect additional money for streetlight maintenance. The new measure will take effect Jan. 1.
Utah’s second most-populous city has been working to upgrade its public lighting system. It recently wrapped up a project that switched old streetlight bulbs to LED fixtures. This program is expected to save the city money in energy costs.
The new ordinance is meant to replace and build whole new lighting systems where needed.
Why? Because, as the ordinance states, “the construction and maintenance of street lighting facilities is essential to promote traffic safety and reduce crime.”
There is no concrete evidence that street lighting translates to safer cities. But illuminating some areas does boost pedestrians’ perception of safety, prompting more people to leave their homes at night and walk outside.
As this new fee takes hold, some residents have questions on what it means for them and their communities. Here are some answers:
How much will it cost?
The first charge will be added to the utility bill in February. The monthly fee is $3 for single-family units and duplexes. Other properties will be assessed based on street frontage, the ordinance states. Each unit will then pay $3 for every 80 linear feet of frontage.
The fee will generate about $1.27 million, with 70% coming from residential units. The collected funds will be used only to install and maintain streetlights.
Why have the fee?
There are around 7,500 streetlights in the city, said Dan Johnson, the city’s public works director. Many of them were built in the mid-1990s and require constant repairs.
“We found ourselves in a position where we were responding to maintenance in a very reactive way. As lights go out, we go out and fix them,” Johnson said. “Quite frankly, we just don’t have the resources to respond to the system needs without adding resources to it.”
The city hopes to fund new hires dedicated to maintaining the public lights in a proactive way and adding new lights where needed.
When will the work start?
According to the ordinance, starting this fee in January will allow the replacement and construction work to begin in the spring. The city is already preparing for the additional revenue by starting the hiring process of new employees who will tend to the streetlights.
The city also expects to acquire an additional technician and buy a bucket truck and new materials.
What can residents expect?
The Public Works Department has identified several locations that don’t have any streetlights. Most of them, Johnson said, are commercial areas.
Many streetlights also are out of service, he said. One of the main reasons is that the underground wiring is faulty and not buried in conduit. These lights often are just buried in dirt, making them harder to replace.
“Many of the current street lighting poles,” the ordinance notes, “are at or beyond their projected service life.”
Overall, the budget is expected to cover the replacement of 70 to 80 lights a year (including poles, new wiring and junction boxes), the addition of 120 lights, and a one-time fiberglass pole painting and wooden pole treatment.
“With these funds, we’ll be able to go and address those types of issues,” Johnson said. “We’ll be responding to any vandalism that may occur in the street lighting system. Really, we’ll have a quicker response to streetlight complaints.”
Other cities — such as Salt Lake City, Sandy and West Jordan — have similar fees, Johnson said. “This is really just a tool that’s going to allow us to provide better service and have a better-lit community.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.