LEWISTON — Paying to light the Franco-American Heritage Center’s spires didn’t make sense to city councilors Tuesday night.

“At at time when we are turning off streetlights around town to balance the budget, I can’t see paying for this,” Councilor Renee Bernier said.

Councilors turned down a plan to pay $1,102 per year to keep the center’s exterior lit. That would have paid the electrical bill for 12 spotlights on the building’s facade.

Franco Center supporters argued in favor of keeping it lighted.

“The center is an important part of the community, and the lights are important because it makes the building visible to the entire community,” said Edmund Gay, the center’s facilities director.

He and Executive Director Rita Dube said they didn’t know what their next step would be or how quickly the remaining lights would be turned off.

The lights were purchased by volunteers in 2008 and installed by city crews. Volunteers raised $18,000 to buy the lights, as part of an effort to light some of downtown Lewiston’s significant buildings, including the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

According to the arrangement, the lights were attached to a city circuit. Central Maine Power Co. billed the city for the electricity and the city passed that cost along to the Franco Center.

But CMP objected this summer, saying the city
was illegally reselling electricity. Six of the lights had been installed on a CMP pole, and they asked to have those turned off. They were, but the city continued to pay to keep the remaining lights, on the southern side, lit until councilors made a decision.

Dube said that decision surprised her.

“We are such a beacon to the community, and it is only $1,000 per year,” she said.

But councilors said they had good reasons.

“I think we’d be setting a precedent if we did this,” Bernier said. “What’s to stop the Basilica from coming in next, telling us they can’t afford to pay to keep their building lit?”

Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau said the Franco Center has options. He suggested they could lease lights from CMP directly and pay a metered rate for electricity. That would likely be more expensive than the electricity the center was getting from the city, Dube said.

She said the center would have to decide what to do with the existing lights.

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The steeple on the Franco-American Heritage Center, foreground, was lit up in June 2008 after the center reached its fundraising goal. The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is in the background.


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