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Falmouth council hears concerns about removing street lights

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Falmouth council hears concerns about removing street lights

FALMOUTH — After a joyous and musical start to the May 24 meeting with a resolution to congratulate the middle school jazz band, the "Iron Twinkies," for their Division I win at the Maine State Jazz Festival, the Town Council moved through a packed agenda.

More than 80 people attended the meeting, many of whom spoke out against the town's plan to remove 174 street lights.

The reduction, which would save the town approximately $20,000, is part of the approved fiscal 2011 budget. Central Maine Power Co. owns the lights and charges lease fees for towns to keep them lit.

The lights were marked with bright green signs two weeks ago, and since then, the town has received more than 70 comments from citizens. At the meeting, 25 people asked that specific lights be spared, many citing safety concerns. 

"The biggest deterrent to crime is light," said David Murdoch, who presented a petition signed by 72 residents along Brook Road, which had six lights targeted for elimination.

"The primary role of government is to protect its citizens," he said.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said he, the police chief and Budgeting and Purchasing Director Randy Davis met early in the week to reconsider some of the criteria used to determine whether a light would be eliminated.

"We are considering taking dead-end street lights off the table," Poore said. 

Many residents from the area known as "the flats," or the high-density development just before the Route 1 bridge over the Presumpscot River, spoke out against the nearly 50 percent removal of lights in their neighborhood.

"It's a very tight-knit community," Payson Road resident Roger Clement said. "The street is an extension of our yards. Lots of kids roll their bikes down the driveway and into the street."

The residents said the community contained people of all ages, and that people frequently congregated in the streets to play games, chat with neighbors, or go for walks. 

While the majority of speakers were opposed to the plan, several people spoke out in favor of the street light removals.

"I'm in favor of the proposal," said Glen Brand of Johnson Road. "We requested our light be turned off."

Brand suggested the town look at other communities that have already done street light reductions to see if crime levels rose.

"There are rational fears about safety and irrational fears about safety," he said.

Several people asked that the town investigate alternative light bulbs and energy sources, which could cut back on the cost of electricity. Poore explained that because the town did not own the lights, it had no say over what kind of bulbs are used.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to table a decision on the Natural Resources amendment to the zoning and site plan review ordinance, which contains the hotly contested vernal pool protections.

The Planning Board is reviewing the ordinance amendment and is presenting an amended version to the Community Development Committee on June 1. Once the CDC votes on the amendment with the planning board's changes, the council will likely take the issue up again.

The council declined to vote on a resolution to accept and approve the Energy and Climate Protection Plan as presented by the Green Ribbon Commission. 

Instead, the council asked that a committee be formed to prioritize the 24 recommendations. The committee will be made up of Councilors Tony Payne, Teresa Pierce, Poore, Davis, and two members of the Green Ribbon Commission.

The council also voted unanimously to approve the transfer of $80,000 from the undesignated fund balance to cover unanticipated general assistance costs.

Poore outlined the dramatic increase in general assistance requests over the past three years, starting with 48 cases in fiscal year 2008, up to 135 cases in fiscal year 2010, which runs through June 30.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net