Municipal Light Board adjusts PILOT

WESTFIELD – The Municipal Light Board, at the request of Mayor Daniel M. Knapik, voted Wednesday to adjust the municipal utility’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the 2014 fiscal year.
Knapik requested that the MLB increase the negotiated annual deduction to fund an $80,000 change order for the Park Square Green project, switching the sodium-vapor lamps with light emitting diodes (LED) lamps, a technology that substantially reduces energy consumption.
The current formula for the utility’s PILOT is based on a formula approved between the city and its utility in 2007. Built into that formula was a credit of $60,000 for the department’s maintenance of the traffic-control lights. That formula was adjusted in 2011, at Knapik’s request, to increase that deduction to $85,000, for the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, to cover the utility’s cost of upgrading traffic signal detectors through the Great River Bridge project site. The one-year PILOT adjustment requested by Knapik would increase the deduction to $185,000 for the 2013 fiscal year if the MLB approved the proposal.
General Manager Dan Howard said the department was contacted by Knapik and City Engineer Mark Cressotti to provide $80,000 to change the light fixtures at the Park Square Green with the LED lamps and a control system to adjust the level of light put out by the LED lamps.  Howard said the switch to the LED technology will allow for flexible light levels for events and result in a significant energy savings.
“The LED lamps use about 20 percent of the power required for standard sodium vapor lamps and require much less maintenance,” Howard said.
Howard said the LED technology has advanced since the project was originally designed with the sodium-vapor light 10 years ago and are more cost effective over the 20-year life of the LED lamps, although they are still much more expensive that the sodium-vapor lamps. The cost of the LED lamps is 10 times that of the sodium-vapor lamps.
The members of the board discussed both the financing request and the future responsibility of the department to maintain the lighting at the Green.
“Right now we have no maintenance agreement,” Howard said. “The Department of Public Works will maintain the light, but that should be minimal because of the 20-year life of the LED lamps.”
MLB Chairman Tom Flaherty raised the issue of the funding for city projects.
“Is this going to be an on-going thing?” Flaherty asked.
Commissioner Robert Paul agreed.
“We’re not a bank,” Paul said, suggesting that the department take over the project.
Howard said there is already an electrical contract for the project and the lamp retrofit is a change order to that contract.
“We’re the best at this work,” Paul said. “We need to be doing the contracting. Why don’t we take care of this rather than an outside contractor where we don’t have control over the equipment and materials being used?”
Paul said that was a concern of his if, at some time in the future, the department might be asked to assume maintenance responsibilities.
Commissioner Robert Sacco said that a goal of the Westfield Gas & Electric Department is to work in concert with the city and other departments.
“We’re always telling Dan (Howard) to cooperate and work with the city,” Sacco said.
The board voted, after a protracted discussion, to approve Knapik’s request.

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