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Posted on Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti moves forward on proposed street light tax

By Tom Perkins

A new charge could arrive in Ypsilanti property owners' winter tax bill.

A proposed streetlight special assessment district funded by the city's property owners would help the city pay to switch from regular to LED streetlights.

The district could generate $500,000 in new revenue and help the city find significant savings in its electricity bill. City council voted unanimously to direct City Manager Ralph Lange to put together a report on how the plan would work.

A report was previously produced in February but the issue was never taken up by council. Lange said fluctuating DTE rates and further research from staff necessitate a new report.

The previous report stated that the average parcel owner in the city would pay around $50 to $60, though those were based off DTE Energy numbers from February. That report had the fee in place for eight years and it is expected to save the city over $100,000 annually.

The purpose of the report, Lange wrote in a memo to City Council, is to “ascertain the cost, extent and necessity of the project as well as establish what proportion of the assessment should be borne by the properties benefited.”

Lange said the city can save on capital if the switch to LED lighting is done this year and offered an aggressive timeline for getting the tax put in place.

"We’re on a very tight schedule," Lange said.

The tentative timeline for developing and implementing the tax is as follows:

  • July 16 - The report from Lange will be submitted to council.
  • August 6 - A first public presentation and public hearing regarding objections and a resolution approving project.
  • August 20 - A public hearing regarding objections and review by the council.
  • September 3 - A second public hearing regarding objections and confirmation by city council.
That would allow for work to be completed by DTE in November and the new fee to be on the winter tax bill.

But the city is ensuring residents have ample time to object to the proposed new tax. City council will hold an informational meeting and two public hearings at which residents can file official objections to the district.

"Having two public hearings instead of one gives adequate time to have people come out," City Planner Teresa Gillotti told council.

No council member expressed support or opposition to the bill, but Council Member Pete Murdock asked questions about how opposition could defeat the measure.

If property owners representing more than 50 percent of the expected cost of the assessment file objections, the project may not proceed without the affirmative vote of four-fifths of all of the council members.

Such a district would allow the city to capture funds from Eastern Michigan University, which is the largest property holder and tax exempt.

Within city limits, there are 4,951 parcels and close to 40 percent of the city's land total is property tax exempt, some of which is accounted for by EMU.

There are 1,719 streetlights in the city and the estimated cost for electricity for fiscal year 2013-14 is $523,051. Within these costs are maintenance, operation and replacement fees. Electricity costs for the city have steadily increased since 2010, when the cost was $501,651.


Steve Pierce

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

Where is the data that supports the claim that poorly lit areas attract crime. When the City of Tucson turned off street lights, not to save money but to reduce light pollution, crime rates went down.

Steve Pierce

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

Hey Solitude, now that EMU has figured out a way to not pay this tax and the city has announced that the Lighting Tax will run as long as the Water Street debt ss due all the way out to 2031 and that each parcel will be assessed a $98 annual fee, still think this is a good idea?

Ypsilanti City Resident

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 10:16 a.m.

The presentation will be at the next council meeting on July 16.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 2:57 a.m.

So in other words, the city's management team has been unsuccessful with and exhausted any and all continuous improvement type methods by which a savings could be realized without the need for any CAPEX spending, i.e. increased taxes? They've done the benchmarking and cost/benefit analysis, put together teams to brainstorm ideas, consulted with experts, plucked all of the low hanging fruit, etc? I'm sure the due diligence was performed in that regard and this is the absolute last resort, the best solution for a bright future, right? I mean this is the gang that brought us Water Street. Sure the faces have changed but they're still wearing the same hats, sitting inside that same box. Yeah, can't go wrong with this one, I'm 101% positive, just like 2+2 = 5.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 4:27 a.m.



Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:12 p.m.

I would be suspicious of the "tight timetable" and the "need to act right now" attitude of the City Manager. Why can't this project be taken on in pieces, or on an as-needed basis? What's the rush to replace working fixtures?

Woman in Ypsilanti

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:04 p.m.

I would rather pay more and have light than pay less and have less light. Not to mention that poorly lit areas attract crime. Do we want to pay to have street lights now or pay the increased costs associated with increased crime later? Guess which costs more? Making sure the street lights work and are bright enough seems like it can save us money in the long run.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 6:20 p.m.

So, after this "tax" is levied, when will it end? Will there be a rebate to property owners in future years when the electrical usage supposedly goes down?


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

This is a good idea, even if the city wasn't planning to replace the existing bulbs with more efficient bulbs. The city (taxpayers) is paying the electric bill for street lighting for property owners who don't pay any property taxes. I think the city should increase the assessment on tax-exempt parcels and reduce it on parcels that are included in the tax roles.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 3:06 a.m.

This is maybe 1 good idea, but what were the other good (and bad) ideas? I didn't see this mentioned in the article. Or is this just like any other government type solution which is to just throw money at a problem because it's the easiest thing to do?


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

Even tax exempt parcels, such as EMU, need to pay this assessment.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5 p.m.

Does anyone know how much it will save? Would the city be willing to put it in writing that it is a one time? Questions I have and would like to know.

Steve Pierce

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

The tax is $50 to $100 per year, not a one time fee. And it will be much higher for business. Someone should ask, How much EMU will pay each year and is there a way for EMU to get out of paying? EMU has far smarter lawyers than the city, if EMU can avoid paying this new tax, they will. And of course this is permanent tax, no tax increase in Ypsilanti in the last 15 years has ever gone away. Never. If you can't see a city light from your property, you still pay. And just like the water company, when electricity use declines, DTE will up the maintenance fees to cover costs. Back in 2001 the Ford plant implemented a water savings of 1 million gallons per day, effectively eliminating 2/3 of their daily water usage. When YCUA took the hit in water sales, YCUA came crawling to the city for a rate increase saying, and I am not making this up, "Since the Ford plant is using less water, everyone else in the city has to pay more." And we do pay, a lot more for water than our neighbors. There will be NO electricity costs savings with this plan. Yes Ypsilanti will use less electricity, Ypsilanti will simply pay more for that electricity and for maintenance. It will still be $500,000 a year for street lights. All this is is a special tax that the city can put outside the 20 mill cap to pay for the for the Water Street fiasco. You remember Water Street, that was the project the Mayor promised would not be paid for by City taxpayers. They lied to us about Water Street, really think you can trust their numbers on this new street light tax? The City couldn't get a Water Street millage passed last year in a stunning 2 to 1 defeat, this is a way to back door the Water Street Tax without a vote of the people. Cheers! - Steve


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 4:24 a.m.

@Solitude - From the Feb 5, 2013 article "Possible options for the assessment include a flat flee, irrespective of parcel size; fees based upon the average parcel area; or fees based upon the perimeter." "Schreiber said at the time that rough estimates from city staff said the district could generate around $500,000 and cost most residents an additional $85 annually."


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:35 p.m.

@Ben, what does YCUA (a local water utility) and water have to do with this? Does anyone really think city replacing a bunch of light bulbs is going to result in DTE (a gigantic monopoly) losing a huge percentage of their electricity sales? Regardless, how is what YCUA did somehow the responsibility of Ypsi city government?


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:26 p.m.

We do pay more for water. A lot more, in the form of the surcharge.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:24 p.m.

Here is a perfect illustration of the fantasy created by Mr. Pierce in just the above post that is directly contradicted by the article. The post says, "The tax is $50 to $100 per year, not a one time fee. And it will be much higher for business." The article states, however, that the city has to recalculated the assessment figures using current information, but that February's numbers had it at $50 to $60 per *parcel*. Note that it says per parcel, not per residential parcel or per business parcel. Mr. Pierce's post offers as fact the idea that businesses would be assessed more than residences, but nowhere is there any indication that business parcels would be assessed at a different rate. This is nothing but conjecture and speculation.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

Considering all the misinformation and outright lies you attempted to pass off as fact/truth during the millage/income tax campaign, and considering all the times you were called out about it, I find it humorous that you think 1) people's memories are that short, and 2) what you say now has any credibility. Cheers!


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

I would have a wait and see attitude on this. First, how much would each property owner really be charged? Second, what would the actual electrical savings be once these lights are installed? Third, where would the cost for replacement lights / maintenance come from? I personally don't have property in Ypsi, so I have no dog in this fight, other than I drive into Ypsi for work occasionally. With that said, if the cost would be $50 per property on average one time, then I would be all for paying that if there were certain stipulations in place. The biggest being that the money saved from the decline in electrical usage would be used to maintain the equipment being put in place. I would want assurances that the City would not come after taxpayers again when that technology begins to die out such as the light bulbs that will need to be replaced.

Aaron Bookvich

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

I would be fine with this if it were a one time fee and resulted in saving the city money on the electric bill. Taxes are already high in Ypsi though.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

When you don't know how much you're being charged for electricity, it must make it tough to figure out how much to spend to save. Ypsilanti should take a page from Ann Arbor City Council and hire consultants, who could begin their work by opening an electric bill and seeing what it says. I'd suggest some of the indoor medical marijuana magnates and mugwumps now thriving in Ypsi be asked for their input -- I doubt if anyone now living knows more about LED lighting than marijuana growers.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

What if I can"t see a city street light from my house do I still pay


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

In our house, we take on projects based on our budget. We do not look to take on a project and make others pay for it. This is not actually a money saver and its not necessary to take this on now. Do not tax us more now.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 4:40 a.m.

At the company I once worked for, we had a serious problem with product getting damaged and rejected which in turn cost the company a lot of money. The cause of the problem was in the infrastructure and our team did the analysis and came up with a solution that would cost about $4 million to resolve. The board rejected our solution and told us that we had to come up with an alternative that cost much less. So the team put the collective nose to the grindstone and eventually came up with a solution that was about 1% of the cost to repair the infrastructure yet reduced the loss of damaged product by around 80%. It wasn't magic but it took hard work, creativity and thinking outside of the box to come up with the solutions that we did. The ROI on that particular project was about 2 months. If our elected officials can't start managing our problems more like that then we need a new team.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

a) I pay for what I do generally with cash and not credit. I do have a mortgage on my house. I generally do not use credit but when I do, I make sure I can pay it back. fees are not credit - they are money picked from my pocket without my vote. b) I have reached my limit with the city's hand in my pocket book. Enough is enough. Live within the means. Spending money to save is a sales tactic, not a strategic plan. We have lights currently. THEY WORK. Spending a ton of money to hop on a fad so you can potentially save some money down the road maybe (unless you hop on the next lighting fad) is not fiscally responsible. Using a backdoor method to tax me without my vote feels like picking my pocket.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 4 p.m.

So do you cash flow all of your projects, or do you use credit accounts for t=your projects? If you are using credit accounts you are not actually paying for your project, you are having someone else pay for your project with the understanding that you will pay them back. This is no different than a tax being applied to streetlights. The City is doing the work, which is paid for by the people who USE THE STREETLIGHTS. The City doesn't use the Streetlights, they are a SERVICE provided to the people of the City of Ypsilanti.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

There is no pocket that City of Ypsilanti officials won't pick. It's infuriating, but not surprising, that city officials seek only new sources of revenue and avoid HONEST efforts at reducing expenditures. Positions in city hall and public works can be eliminated, employee compensation packages remain out of control, certain jobs/functions can be performed more effectively and economically by being outsourced, consultants can be eliminated, city vehicle fleets can be reduced, etc. But, this would require political will and backbone…something we are woefully short of in Ypsi.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

"two public hearings at which residents can file official objections to the district" Ryan, what about residents who support the plan? Are we not allowed to speak at the public hearings, or are you just assuming that everybody's going to be opposed? Personally, I approve of this plan to keep the streetlights on; I'd rather follow cities like Novi and Southfield down the streetlight assessment path than follow Detroit and Highland Park down the path of turning off all the streetlights.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:01 p.m.

Me too. I don't want dark streets and if it means paying more, I am on board.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

How much of the price increase was caused by goverenment mandates?


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

When will these city leaders ever give up on trying to find ways to raise taxes? The result will be spending more, if we agree to be taxed some more. It never ends, does it? Go figure!


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:45 a.m.

The headline is misleading: the proposal is not a tax, it is an assessment. Assessments can only be levied against those properties that benefit, using a specific process, while a tax can be levied against all properties, regardless of benefit, using a completely different process.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

indeed - an end-around the electoral process!! its a tax imposed by a guy in the name of the government.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:45 a.m.

Is this a one time tax? Once installed and we are saving money will our taxes be reduced? Thinks I would like to know.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 3:24 a.m.

So hypothetically if almost 5,000 parcels are paying a $60/year assessment for each of the next 8 years, that's almost $2.4 million. Is that the cost of the project? If so, then the payback from the $100,000/year savings won't be fully recouped for 24 years. That doesn't sound like such a great ROI...


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 6:50 p.m.

Report says fee in place for eight years.

Tom Perkins

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:53 a.m.

It's not a one-time payment. But it's also not permanent. More details will be available when a new report is presented in two weeks.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

Foolish question. No your taxes will never go down.