Citizens favor safety over darkening of street lights

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WILTON — For many of the approximately 50 residents who attended Tuesday’s Selectmen’s meeting, safety issues were more important than savings realized from shutting off street lights.

The board listened to public comments on the proposed darkening of over half of the town’s 314 street lights, which is expected to save nearly $23,000. Residents voiced concerns to selectmen about safety and how the process was undertaken.

Savings was only one issue, conservation and avoiding light pollution is also a concern, Terry Brann, select chair and member of the Street Light Committee told residents.

The committee, formed earlier this year, set criteria for lights to keep, asked for public input and then posted signs on proposed lights to shut off. Public responses to those postings have resulted in removing 20 lights from the list of about 185.

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Facing a difficult budget process this year and another one expected next year, the board sought ways to keep taxes from rising. A $51,000 street light budget could be reduced to about $32,000 by darkening some of the lights, he said.

The board suggested residents come to the June town meeting and propose raising the amount needed for the budget if they want to keep the lights on.

“Everyone here doesn’t want street lights shut off,” Edgar Adams said. “The issue is we’re dealing with public safety.”

Criteria used by the committee included retaining lights at dangerous intersections, public buildings, hills, schools and crosswalks.

“Taxes will be raised regardless,” James Knowles said as he questioned a $2,250 cost to turn a light back on if the town reversed its decision.

The cost to keep the street light budget would raise taxes approximately $10 per $100,000 valuation, said Town Manager Rhonda Irish.

Some residents questioned spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on other departments in a $2.7 million budget while trying to save only $23,000, or 1 percent, on the lights. The board reaffirmed trying to keep taxes down while each department faced a tight budget this year.

“The committee did what we asked them to do — look at the lights and save money,” Selectmen Russell Black said.

Although the budget is lower than last year, the tax rate is going up because of the $171,000 that is Wilton’s share of school taxes and the need to curb spending of “surplus funds,” Selectman Paul Gooch said.

Residents can adopt a light, paying the cost about $15 on their monthly electrical bill, and the committee is still considering comments and what lights to shut off.

Voters will discuss the proposal at the June town meeting.

abryant@sunjournal.com

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