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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 17 2009

Fargo utility bills going up

Fargo should have a city street lighting utility at the first of the year, breaking $1.6 million in costs out of the general fund budget and putting them directly on homeowners and businesses.

The cost to repair and light the city’s 11,000 street lights would be paid with a $4 per month charge to homeowners and $10 a per month charge to commercial properties, City Finance Director Kent Costin said.

The charges would be added to utility bills, Costin said.

The City Commission voted 5-0 Monday to approve first reading of the ordinance creating the utility.

Costin said staff included the lighting utility in the 2010 city budget.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said city staff have been looking at ways to generate new revenue without raising property taxes.

The “fee-for-service” plan is a “proactive move to diversify revenues,” Costin said.

Costin said the move will also lend consistency to budgeting, particularly with the rising cost of energy. In 2003, the city paid $550,000 a year for electricity to operate the lights. In 2008, the cost jumped to $800,000, he said.

Costin said payouts by the city in settlements for charging traffic fines over what is allowed by state law, and for the death of a young girl in an accident caused by a rut in South University Drive, did not play a part in deciding to create the lighting utility.

“We’ve actually been looking at this for the last few years,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583