Detroit City Council paves the way for public lighting authority

Feb 5, 2013

The Detroit City Council on Tuesday approved articles of incorporation for a public lighting authority in the city.

The state legislature passed bills in December enabling the lighting authority. Detroit has chronic problems keeping many of its streetlights on, though no one can say for sure how many aren't working at any given time.

It allows Detroit to retain ownership of its lighting system, but lets the authority run it. The city currently has about 33,000 lights on its grid; DTE Energy has the other 55,000.

Now that Council has approved its articles of incorporation, the next steps are to find five Detroit residents to act as board members.

Council President Pro-Tem wants to move as quickly as possible to get the authority up and running—and get some of Detroit’s chronically-dark streets lit.
 

“We need to be out of the business of public lighting,” Brown said.

The authority has the ability to issue bonds to upgrade Detroit’s lighting infrastructure. The legislation also carves out $12.5 million of the city’s utility

The resolution passed over the objections of some Council members.

They’re concerned that streetlights will be turned off forever in some targeted neighborhoods—and taxpayers living there will foot the bill anyway.

“The corporation will make all the revenue and profit, while the taxpayers pay off the debt,” Council member JoAnn Watson said. “The city of Detroit’s proposal would only provide designated neighborhoods
with streetlights, but every taxpayer in the city will pay for it.”

Council member Ken Cockrel Jr. says there are “a lot of perfectly legitimate concerns” with the plan.

"But they probably should’ve been raised six months ago before we approved a resolution, sent it to the legislature, and got the legislature to create the authority,” Cockrel said. “You can’t turn back the clock at this point.”

One of the authority’s biggest decisions will be to decide how many of Detroit’s estimated 88,000 streetlights should remain on. That number—and where service is concentrated—are likely to be major points of contention in coming months.

The legislation calls for taking about 40,000 lights offline.