Everywhere, we’ve been hearing about how cities, towns and even entire states are so far in debt that they will never get out. In an attempt to avoid that situation – or at least to minimize future damage – one Michigan town near Detroit has opted to turn off its street lights and rip them out rather than go further into debt on a $4 million electric bill Highland Park’s city officials say bluntly they simply will not be able to pay. In fact, when elected officials opted to turn out the lights, they also had them removed completely, ripping out “bulbs, poles and all.” Residents are outraged, called the extreme austerity measure “a disgrace” and accusing elected officials of endangering anyone out after dark.
The streetlights themselves were removed to make sure that the decision stuck. While libraries can be opened and closed and roadwork resumed at the first sign of an angry population (if the money can be borrowed to do so), it’s going to be pretty hard to get 2/3 of the city’s light poles reinstalled on short notice. And the city’s monthly electric bill has permanently been cut by 80 percent. Like much of Detroit and surrounding areas, Highland Park has suffered dramatic losses with a 22 percent unemployment rate and fewer than 12,000 residents where it used to house more than twice that number. “We’re all hurting,” says one city council member who approved the controversial move to shut off the lights even though this is an election year.
Even the utility company hesitated to comply with the city’s request, according to vice president of marketing and renewable for DTE Energy, Trevor Lauer. Highland Park’s debt to the company goes back nearly a decade, and DTE has listed the overdue bill as an “uncollectable expense.” Moving forward, though Lauer says that he is confident that Highland Park is a “municipal lighting customer I’m confident can pay its monthly bill.”
A number of energy analysts predict that other cities may also consider cutting off the lights “if it works in Highland Park.” Do you think that Highland Park’s city council made a good decision?
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