After Johnston wins settlement over lights on state roads, Lombardi also seeking handoff of state streetlights

After Johnston wins settlement over lights on state roads, Lombardi also seeking handoff of state streetlights

NORTH PROVIDENCE – In the wake of a settlement allowing Johnston to avoid having to pay for streetlights on state roads moving forward, Mayor Charles Lombardi says he will be looking to follow the neighboring town’s lead.

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena announced last week a settlement where Johnston will pay $3 million owed for past light operation, while owing nothing going forward, as there is no law requiring the town to pay for the lights on state roads.

Lombardi said officials will work to determine the number of streetlights on state roads in North Providence, and then determine how best to proceed.

“We don’t have the number of streetlights they have in Johnston,” he said, as multiple highways run through that town, but North Providence does have quite a few smaller state roads, including Mineral Spring Avenue, Smith Street, Douglas Avenue, Charles Street and a portion of Waterman Avenue.

“We’ll be taking a look at the cost for us, and most definitely we’re going to address it,” he said. Savings are especially important in a small town that’s short on new opportunities for tax revenue growth, he added.

“I knew it was coming, and I appreciate Joe going after it,” he said of his friend Polisena.

The Johnston mayor said last week’s settlement makes way for other towns to achieve similar savings in their budgets.

Lombardi said he’s a bit conflicted on the idea of pursuing legal action, as “somebody’s going to pay” for the lights, whether it’s the town or the state, and the money still comes from taxpayers.

In Johnston, Polisena had stopped paying National Grid eight years ago for streetlights on state roads, and had put aside $250,000 per year in case he lost his civil suit.

Representatives from the state told media outlets that municipal officials pushed for lights on state roads many years ago, agreeing to pay the bill for them, but that agreement was never formalized. The costs are much less than they once were because of dramatic upgrades in efficiency, they said.

Any additional savings for North Providence through similar legal action would be in addition to the $260,000 or so the town is already saving over the first seven years of a lease agreement on the streetlights through an agreement with the Partnership for Rhode Island Streetlights Management (PRISM). After that, the savings are expected to jump near $400,000.

Towns such as North Providence are seeing significant savings in streetlight costs even as usage has increased due to daylight savings time. In spite of streetlights now remaining on for as long as 12 hours each day, many communities are seeing electricity savings this season thanks to an initiative led by the Rhode Island League of Cities in Towns.

Nearly half of the state’s communities have undertaken projects to upgrade their streetlights, announced the League of Cities and Towns last week.

To date, at least 16 communities have purchased their streetlights from National Grid and upgraded them to LED lights.

The League of Cities and Towns supported the Municipal Streetlights Investment Act, passed in 2013, which facilitated the purchase of streetlights by cities and towns from National Grid, saving them substantial operating costs in the process.

The conversions will lead to significant savings for taxpayers in cities and towns and allow the municipalities to instead focus spending on other areas, such as investments in city services, say those behind the program.

The town is also set to take in some $5 million in savings and revenue over the next 25 years from a new solar farm on the former North Providence Landfill on Smithfield Road.