Highland Park, Michigan Tearing Out Its Streetlights To Cut Costs
The economic slowdown has put countless people out of work and eliminated millions of dollars in homeowner wealth. States and cities haven't been immune to its effects, either.
Faced with shrinking tax revenues and pressure to cut costs, more than half of U.S. cities have cut staff, cancelled construction projects or raised fees this year, according to The National League of Cities, and many communities have had to scale back the kinds of public services that in more robust times people simply took for granted.
Highland Park, Michigan, a city in the greater Detroit area, is the latest town to implement dramatic austerity measures, according to the Associated Press.
With $58 million in municipal debt and a $60,000 monthly electric bill that it can't pay, Highland Park has elected to remove 1,000 of its 1,500 streetlights -- not just turning the power off, but tearing the poles themselves out of the ground.
It's a strategy that's unlikely to fix most of Highland Park's economic woes. The town's unemployment rate is 22 percent -- more than twice the national rate -- and 42 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
Still, Highland Park needs to trim expenses, and it isn't the first town to turn off its lights in the name of doing so. Clintonville, Wisconsin has stopped operating 10 percent of its streetlights, reportedly saving $7,000, according to local news station WHBL. Santa Rosa is in the midst of a four-year effort to remove thousands of streetlights, and similar steps have been taken in North Andover, Massachusetts; Montgomery, Pennsylvania; and South Portland, Maine, according to USA Today.
But cutting back on public lighting may be giving rise to new problems. Oakland, California has been using lower-output bulbs in its streetlamps for the past several years, and locals believe the dimmer light has contributed to an uptick in crime, according to The New York Times.
Other public services have suffered as struggling local governments look for ways to make ends meet. Last year, Denver slashed $500,000 from its trash-collection budget, leading to complaints that the city was becoming clogged with garbage. Public libraries across the country have been closed down or had their hours curtailed. And more than half of the nation's county and city health departments have cut back on at least one program in the past year, according to The Wall Street Journal.
As state and local governments continue to bleed out -- shedding jobs at about the same rate that the private sector is adding them -- many are turning to contract employees to do the same jobs as former government employees for less money, the NYT reports. But experts are divided on whether these measures have had the intended effect of saving money.