In a Legislative hearing held on March 4, 2014 Senators and concerned government agency heads debated the pros and cons of moving an additional 2 percent of money collected from territorial property taxes to help fund street lighting. The additional 2 percent will bring the total amount dedicated to pay for street lighting up to 6 percent or an estimated $6.3 million for 2014.
The Water and Power Authority (WAPA), which provides the lighting, estimates the actual cost of annual street lighting to be around $11-million. The additional 2 percent will help toward this end.
Fortunately for WAPA there will be two issuances of property taxes during 2014, to make up for several years when property taxes were being held up due to litigation. This means that WAPA will be able to achieve more than $12-million for street lighting this year. However, new funding streams will be needed beginning 2015.
“While AARP sees the passage of Bill Number 30-0318 as a tremendous win for seniors,” stated Denyce Singleton, State Director of AARP VI, “we share the concerns expressed by members of the Finance Committee about the need to identify additional funding streams that will assure that our streets will be well-lit past 2014. For now we are extremely gratified so see this pass through the Committee process and on to Rules.”
Singleton testified favorably on the bill, citing street lighting as an issue of community safety, security and economics. She shared recently collected data from an AARP transportation poll conducted during the St. Croix Agricultural Fair which indicated that 48 percent of responding seniors that drive reported they no longer drive after dark due to the lack of adequate street lighting. “Seniors concerns specifically included poor lighting; the lack of road stripes and lane markings, as well as their inability to see and avoid numerous pot holes which cause damage to their vehicles.
This means that seniors are basically held captive in their homes after dark. They are unable to go shopping, participate in social events like graduations or public hearings on issues dear to them, go out to dinner, or even see a movie. The lack of street lighting is not just an issue of safety and security, but it has a real financial impact on the economy of the territory.”
The bill will be heard in the Rules and Judiciary Committee before it moves on to the Committee of the Whole for a final vote. However, based on the lively discussions from this Committee’s membership, it appears the bill has tremendous support from Legislators who will work to convince their colleagues that finding funding for street lights is the “right” thing to do.