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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Some lights remain out after the sun goes down Monday, Feb. 13, 2012. Many street lights were allowed to stay out to save money in Salt Lake City .
It would ensure a consistent, long-term funding stream for our city's streetlight system —Art Raymond, spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker

SALT LAKE CITY — Keeping streetlights shining in Salt Lake City may cost residents a few extra dollars per month.

Mayor Ralph Becker has proposed a street-lighting fee that would fund operation, maintenance and upgrades for more than 15,000 street lights.

Under the proposal, an additional $2.29 street-lighting charge would be added to residents' monthly utility bills. Businesses would pay $41.53 per month for every 75 feet of street frontage.

City leaders in recent years have allowed mid-block streetlights to remain dark when bulbs burned out as a way to save money during lean budget cycles. Residents complained, and the mayor and City Council vowed last year to make street lighting a priority.

"It was a concern to city residents who lost lights near their homes," said Art Raymond, the mayor's spokesman.

Becker's plan calls for the city to create an enterprise fund for street lighting, which would keep funds collected for that purpose separate from other city money. That means property tax dollars would no longer be used for street lighting.

"It would ensure a consistent, long-term funding stream for our city's streetlight system," Raymond said.

It also means that properties that don't pay property tax — such as state, county and local government buildings, as well as churches — would be asked to pay their share to keep streetlights operating.

"In some ways, it's a more equitable way to deal with lighting in the same way we do with utilities, where it's a fee paid for services as opposed to a property tax," said Soren Simonsen, Salt Lake City Council chairman.

By treating street lighting more like a utility, Simonsen said, all those who benefit from the service would contribute to the cost to provide it.

City officials and consultants presented the proposal to the City Council during a work session Tuesday. There are still several questions that must be answered before the City Council considers implementing the fee, including whether it would result in a property tax reduction to city taxpayers.

The fee would generate an estimated $2.8 million in its first year, city officials said. Most of that would go toward operating expenses, though about $450,000 would be available for street-lighting upgrades or future needs.

It also would leave about $1.6 million available in the general fund — money that traditionally would have gone to street lighting. The mayor's plan calls for that money to be allocated for other purposes.

Simonsen said he believes a property tax reduction should be considered.

"I'm sure we could identify worthwhile things to do with that ($1.6 million)," he said. "But it is in some regards an increase in what some people are paying for services, and we need to think carefully about whether or not we want to add additional costs or if we're going to look at some cost-reduction measures."

Simonsen said he's already received feedback from residents and businesses concerned about having to pay another public utilities fee. The fee also could be seen as a backdoor tax if property owners are asked to pay existing property taxes as well as a street-lighting fee.

"It's not a huge fee, but it's not insignificant either," he said.

Salt Lake City has more than 18,000 streetlights. Of those, nearly 3,100 are private decorative lights installed and maintained by neighborhoods, with assistance from the city. The proposed fee would not go toward operating and maintaining those private lights, city officials said.

In all, nearly 53,500 properties would be charged a fee for street lighting, including nearly 2,000 properties that do not pay property taxes, city officials said.

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