Apparently my dad was right. You can stop spending a lot of money if you just turn off the lights.
Story after story from The Associated Press shows cities going dark to get their budgets in the black:
•The Detroit suburb of Highland Park, Mich., tore out two-thirds of its street lights last month to help chip away at its $4 million overdue electric bill, which cost the city of 12,000 people $60,000 monthly payments.
•Rockford, Ill., saved $500,000 a year by turning off 15 percent of its streetlights.
•Closer to home, New Paris will end its contract in January with Dayton Power and Light, saving $17,000 a year on streetlights in the Preble County village.
•Much closer to home — literally home for me — in Ottawa, the village is considering a proposal to turn off half the streetlights, potentially saving $30,000 a year in the shadow of a failed income tax increase in November. The village already eliminated its annual Christmas lights display in Memorial Park, saving $7,500.
The economy may be getting better for many Americans, but municipalities often feel economic shifts last. Because income taxes and property taxes fund them, cities and counties don’t feel the pinch immediately when things go bad. They’re starting to feel it now, though.
The state budget’s approval just complicated matters. There’s a 25 percent cut in local government funding next year, followed by another reduction the following year. Times will be tight, and local governments will have to be resourceful.
Officials in American Township are feeling the chill of residents, who are concerned the elimination of the assistance maintenance supervisor might slow down snow removal this winter. Fort Shawnee continues to meander its way out of its $800,000 projected deficit (down to $140,000 now), but it won’t make more drastic changes before swearing in the new councilors and mayor in January.
Lima has to figure out how to deal with $2 million in funding cuts from the state. It’s looking at reducing personnel costs, much of it by eliminating 30 positions left open when people decided to leave.
Other cities across the country are finding dramatic ways to fill dramatic gaps in their budgets:
•Naperville, Ill., might sell advertising on all city property. One possibility includes stamping the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo on fresh asphalt when filling potholes, according to the Chicago Tribune.
•Clearwater, Fla., dismantled nine of the city’s 34 parks within the last five years. It expects to knock down another five by 2019, according to the St. Petersburg Times, as the cost of replacing equipment at parks can cost $50,000 to $75,000.
•Coney Island, N.Y., began rationing toilet paper at its public restrooms this summer, according to the New York Post, offering only a few squares per person of the city’s single-ply sanitary product.
These places are all feeling the pinch of thriftiness, something most Americans adapted to three years ago. Taxpayers feel frustrated when officials brag about pay freezes when those same taxpayers took pay cuts a few years ago. They can’t help but wonder if these places slimmed their workforces down enough, a practice called “right-sizing” in the private sector.
It’s not a fun process to look at your budget and try to live on it when your expenses go up and your income goes down. Just ask any taxpayer what that’s like. They call that “living within your means.”
They should also be careful with things such as public safety, one of the legitimate and agreed-upon uses of government. I’m a cynic, so I wonder if something as public as turning off streetlights might just be a ploy to push a future tax push, just as some schools threaten to cut sports if a levy fails.
Still, I applaud these places for looking closely at their budgets and thinking about what’s absolutely necessary and what’s not. It’s time more people talked about what should be essential government functions and what shouldn’t be.