As City Council studied the fiscal year 2011 budget last spring, members sought — but did not receive — a concrete proposal for a planned $60,000 reduction in the city's electricity expenses.
Mayor James Fiorentini assured the board that a study group, led by Public Works Director Michael Stankovich, would find enough cost savings by changing the way the city's streets were lit.
The City Council approved the budget, minus the $60,000.
But when the proposal came to shut off street lights to save a chunk of that money, it met with little support on the council.
In five months, the fiscal year will end. To date, not one dollar has been saved on street lighting.
It is doubtful that the council will enact any cost-saving measures before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
In the meantime, Fiorentini has to prepare — and the council has to vote on — a fiscal year 2012 budget, which is set to go into effect on July 1. In that budget, Fiorentini said, he'd like to save $100,000 on energy.
Really? History doesn't make success seem likely.
By approving the FY 2011 budget with $60,000 less for electricity, the council gave Fiorentini broad latitude to enact $60,000 worth of cost savings. Fiorentini could have turned off the lights without the council's approval.
Instead, he posted on the city website the hundreds of lights he sought to darken and invited residents to respond.
He sought a public hearing.
Residents responded and made it clear they didn't like what they saw.
In the end, political pressures kept Fiorentini from acting on the enormously unpopular light-darkening plan. Councilors who called the proposal dangerous played on public fears and, in effect, reneged on a promise to the taxpayers by forcing the lights to stay on.
The problem is, they're still on. And nothing else has been done instead to save even a dime on street lighting.
Councilors Colin LePage and Sven Amirian, members of the mayor's energy task force, last week brought a new proposal to their colleagues, which sets standards for deactivating a street light and standardizes the wattage of lights based on their location.
Over the course of a year, LePage and Amirian figure, the city could save $27,000 just by reducing the wattage of some of the bulbs in the city's street lights and deactivating others that met a strict set of criteria.
Council colleagues William Macek and David Hall objected to the Energy Task Force plan, saying the proposed standards appeared to be another attempt to shut off street lights without considering other options.
The plan could save around $7,000 or $8,000 this year (a far cry from $60,000), if activated immediately.
But it won't be. And so $60,000 will have to come from free cash to cover the gap.
Macek, whose name is now floating as a potential mayoral candidate in the next election cycle, months ago suggested the city look into alternatives, namely a technology that allows the lights to be controlled remotely.
Fiorentini and the company, CIMCOM, have remained in contact and have a trial of the company's technology scheduled for the coming fall months.
By then, the 2012 fiscal year, the one in which the mayor wants $100,000 in savings on electricity costs, will have begun. What if the trial fails? What if the city and the company can't come to an agreement? Where would the $100,000 come from?
Unless the mayor or the council are willing to do what has to be done, regardless of whether it is politically unpopular, the 2012 fiscal year budget will be more of a wish list than a financial blueprint. And with no federal stimulus money headed our way next year and the inevitability of reduced state aid, every dollar and every dime must be accounted for.