Chautauqua Streetlight Bond Vote Approaches

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It’s taken years to be at a point to vote on new streetlights in Chautauqua Institution. The vote is Tuesday and with a decision by property owners, the town will or won’t see a change in lighting.

Sort of.

Between noon and 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Colonnade, property owners will vote on whether or not they approve of the Chautauqua Utility District floating a bond of up to $800,000 to be paid over 30 years or less. That bond would purchase and replace street lighting currently owned by National Grid. However, the contract between CUD and National Grid has not yet been approved, therefore the contract itself cannot be voted on. The district still has the right to refuse the contract.

All projects that exceed $100,000 must be voted on by property owners. That happened in 2014 with the wasteater plant project, now underway, which resulted in an $400 annual increase in property taxes for the $8 million bond.

As the contract continues through negotiations, reality hit that it wouldn’t be finalized by the time property owners could go to a vote, said Bill Neches, president of the Chautauqua Property Owners Association. If the vote were to be held off until the contract is hammered out, the referendum would have to wait until next year.

“We’re gearing up,” Neches said. “We want to provide information to the Chautauqua property owner community so that they will make an informed decision on whether to vote yes or no on this proposition.”

At a recent street lighting discussion, CUD supervisor Tom Cherry said he supports the project. With CPOA’s help, CUD is working to finalize the contract with National Grid. The wording in Tuesday’s referendum allows leeway for continuing negotiations.

For example, John Dilley, current chair of the CPOA Outdoor Lighting Committee, said the project would probably cost about $600,000 to purchase the 243 current lights, buy the new lights and install them. However, $200,000 is added to that for any costs that might come out of negotiations and an allowance for National Grid’s separation and reconfiguration costs, including items such as breaker boxes.

The current bond also has the potential to install new lights that weren’t previously there.

With the bond at $800,000, Neches and Dilley said there would not be an increase in taxes. Installation is estimated to take between one and five years.

“The limiting factor at this point is going to be two things: ‘Can the installer install things rapidly?’ and the installer told us ‘yes,’ ” Neches said. “If we want, he can install it in six months or less if we want. The other limiting factor is how fast the manufacturer can produce the lights.”

Currently, National Grid owns most of the street lighting; it costs $40,000 per year to rent the lights from the company. It costs $15,000 to power those lights — none of which are LEDs, as National Grid does not offer LED options.

With research from specialists and others on the lighting committee, the CPOA settled on two lights — a Neri 804 Heritage with a Philips Fortimo LLM LED array and a Cree LED light. The Neri would be used for stand-alone posts and lights on arms. The Cree would be used for cobra head fixtures.

Chautauquans can also fund their own streetlights with donations through the Chautauqua Foundation. Sixteen lights have already been funded, Neches said.

Earlier this summer, Neches said there are several factors that make a streetlight incompatible with a pedestrian town such as Chautauqua:

• Disability glare is when a too-bright light can make it difficult to see the street or anything beyond that, such as street signs and other pedestrians. It can worsen with age.

• Light trespass occurs when a light can shine in someone’s business or home. For example, a streetlight mounted on a pole can shine into the apartment of a second-story building throughout the night.

• Light pollution occurs when lights like globes, or spherical-shaped lights, on Bestor Plaza make it harder to see the night sky and stars.

• Cost and maintenance becomes an issue with higher-watt bulbs that burn out quickly and need maintenance more often. For example, there are several lights that include incandescent, 100-plus-watt bulbs that need to be replaced about every three or four months. LED lights tend to need lower maintenance because they last longer.

“The other big thing is, unlike the sewage treatment plant, it shouldn’t require an increase in taxes,” Dilley said. “The lights aren’t the cheapest around, but our experts … picked out the best ones in the world.”

Each property has one vote it can cast, Neches said. That means if a person lives in a house with several family members, the property only receives one vote by the owner. The Institution itself also has one vote. Property owners must vote in-person at the Colonnade.

If a property owner is not in town Tuesday, a form can be filled out to designate someone else to vote in their place, which must be done in writing. All voters must have identification with them.

As Tuesday grows closer, the CPOA has been trying to inform citizens about why they should vote yes. They’ve had weekly walks about street lighting in Chautauqua, information sessions and created and sent out materials on the topic. But, Dilley said, it’s just not creating the same stir that issues like the Amphitheater and the sewer plant had in previous years.

“I think the response to our marketing has been a little bit underwhelming, not in terms of whether they like it or not, because once we explain it, they all like it,” Dilley said. “People haven’t turned out in big numbers for the open events.”

Although there is not much controversy, both Neches and Dilley said they wouldn’t see any reason why someone would vote no, unless they were uneducated about the issue.

“I don’t think there will be hesitation to complete the project, because at this particular point, we’ve kind of covered a lot of the bases,” Neches said.

Rebekah Barnes

The author Rebekah Barnes