Fulton Officials See The Light, Look To Change Bulbs To Save Tax Dollars

<p>Street lights in downtown Fulton.</p>
Street lights in downtown Fulton.

Fulton city officials are hoping modern technology lets them cut the city’s utility bill.

Mayor Ron Woodward said the city is studying whether LED-style lights can be used in some of the city’s street lights. LED lights burn a lot less energy and would save the city money on its National Grid utility bill.

Woodward said the utility charges based on the wattage of the light bulb — it doesn’t have a meter on every pole to charge exact usage — and the estimated number of hours of usage, which is more in the winter than in the summer. LED lights use 15 watts of energy, he said, while conventional bulbs use 32 watts.

He took an official of an area electrical company on a tour of some downtown lights last Friday to do some more research.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the city owns only a relative handful of the thousands of light poles in the city. National Grid owns most of them. The city’s old fashioned street lamps in the Cayuga St./S. 1st St. area are owned by the city. It can put meters on those poles to catch an accurate picture of usage.

“We’re asking National Grid if we can buy the light poles on our bridges so we can meter them, too,” Woodward said.

The effort to save money from any source is driven by the bad news contained in the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The state is raising, sharply, the amount that local governments and schools have to pay for its share of employee retirements. There’s a big jump in the 2010 budget and another large jump on top of the first one in the 2011 budget. The state invests the contributions to worker retirement funds and for many years required almost no local contribution. The recession and collapse of investments has left a large gap that local governments have to fill.

The 2010 proposed Fulton city budget contains no tax increase. The city saved money by combining the top-level jobs of the city Clerk and Chamberlain, by cancelling a couple of payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements which will put some industrial properties back on the tax rolls, and by looking hard for large and small savings.

“I don’t know how we’re gonna do that in 2011 without a tax increase,” said Woodward.

The Common Council holds a public hearing on the budget later this month.