I wrote back in August of 2010 when the idea of purchasing the lights was first offered:
“If we buy the streetlights, are we buying in effect the telephone poles? If we buy the telephone poles, and we want to underground the lines; will we pay significantly less for the undergrounding since they are our poles? If we own them, can we start planning for the phasing out and replacing of stand-alone lights? Or, is National Grid winking at us saying, “Why sure! We would love to trap the City. Since the lights are attached, we avoid paying taxes but now the City is dependent on these poles and they must stay up.”
As I mentioned in detail in my post, the reason we are presently stuck with these old-fashioned telephone poles on into the 21st century is so the utility companies can avoid paying taxes. If a modern underground line is put in, they will have to pay property tax. By keeping them up, they avoid them.
And yet, Newburyport, as so many other communities who want to move into the 21st century have done; has mandated that the right thing to do is to bury the lines. Unfortunately, the utility companies using their combined lobbying power on Beacon Hill; have had laws passed that if the poles go and they are forced into compliance; the city taxpayer has to foot the bill!
Now the city has decided to purchase the lights. Regardless of the fact the city has a horrible track record when it comes to maintenance; this expense will probably save us in the short run of years – but it freezes us back into the same costly situation:
We still don’t own the poles!
We’re stuck with revenue-lost and old, unsightly, tree-damaging, property-value-reducing poles –some of them so unstable they are held together with bailing wire!
So look up! Yep, those lights are the taxpayers’ property – but they are firmly stuck on the utility companies’ turf!