Amherst hopes to save $7.8 million over the next two decades by taking ownership of its street lighting system, according to a proposal approved Monday by Town Board members.
If successful, Amherst would become the first municipality in the state to opt out of a street lighting lease with Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., according to town officials.
The proposal, approved by a 6-1 vote, calls for negotiations with the utility company to buy the lighting network in Amherst and end a long-term lease arrangement. If the utility refuses to sell, Amherst would build a new lighting system for an estimated $18 million.
Custom Lighting Services, a Missouri company that is offering to maintain and administer Amherst's street lighting system under a 21-year contract, has been working with a committee of town officials led by Council Member Jane S. Woodward.
"None of us has a crystal ball," Woodward told fellow lawmakers during a Monday work session. But, she added, "unless we do something, these (street lighting) leases will go on and on forever and ever."
Despite four years of discussions, Niagara Mohawk continues to balk at the town's demands to terminate the lease, Woodward said.
"We just feel like we're getting nowhere," she said. "What they tell us is we have to lease the equipment. They refuse to discuss it with us."
Niagara Mohawk spokesman Stephen F. Brady confirmed Monday that the utility is not interested in the proposal.
"We're staying consistent. Our network isn't for sale," Brady said.
However, Brady also said the town's vote confused company officials because they have an appointment Nov. 29 to talk with the Amherst board about street lighting issues.
Amherst officials complain that the company's service is poor, especially when it comes to repairing lights that are out, but Brady said company officials have already addressed the problem.
"We believe our service has gotten better and is getting better," Brady said.
Niagara Mohawk owns and maintains the lighting systems in Amherst and most other municipalities. However, critics say the company's lease fees are too high.
According to Town Comptroller Maureen P. Cilano, the town's projections include debt service on an $18 million bond that would be used to build a complete new lighting system under what officials called a "worst-case scenario."
By owning its own system, Amherst could expect next year to cut $285,000 from its current $2.3 million street lighting bill with Niagara Mohawk, or a savings of more than 12 percent. Similar savings could be expected for the next 19 years.
In the 21st year, the construction bond would be retired, and the town could expect to save almost $1.9 million.
In other action, the board voted to table a measure calling for a referendum to end the office of elected town clerk.