Light at the end of the tunnel

EAST PALESTINE – The future may appear dim for new lights in the village, but there is still hope.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone said Monday the village will have some money in the next two years to put toward the purchase of new light poles in the downtown area.

The money would be the result of the village paying off the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) loan awarded through the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2006.

The loan went toward paving around the schools and the village has been paying roughly $98,000 annually.

Monteleone said the loan will be paid off by 2015 and the village could put the money it has been paying on that toward the poles.

“We already targeted some of this toward looking at a new ambulance in the future. It’s my suggestion we take a portion for the new poles,” he said.

He added he and Finance Director Traci Thompson worked together on a plan that would finance the light poles over 30 years at $13,000 a year.

The village is looking at spending roughly $200,000 on 40 new light poles through its contract with Ohio Edison. Under the contract the company owns the poles, but the village is responsible for the cost of new ones and the cost of maintenance.

“That SIB loan money would be able to cover that easily,” Monteleone said.

Until then, he and council members are hoping more lights aren’t taken off the streets.

Since February two utility poles have been removed from North Market Street. The one in front of the village administrative offices was removed by Ohio Edison after it fell toward the street, resulting in the road being blocked off to traffic for several hours.

The second, only two blocks from the first, was removed by the company as a precaution because of its deteriorating base.

Monteleone has said nearly all of the aging utility poles along the main street through town have rusted bases.

The village was hoping the company would replace the utility poles, but the only way that can happen is for the village to front the cost and there isn’t money available at this point.

Thompson said the village pays about $20,000 a month to Ohio Edison for its electricity usage.

The village has been using the company as its provider since the mid-1970s, when it sold the light plant on West Main Street for $3.5 million.

Monteleone explained the village has some restrictions on how it can move forward with new light poles as a result of the company’s tariff through the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Under the tariff, the village can only buy poles approved by the company.

Councilman Alan Cohen asked if the poles could be purchased by other companies.

“If you go online there are several companies that are selling poles that are identical to ours as far as I can tell. They are like $1,500 a piece,” he said.

That cost is less than half of what Monteleone has said the pole replacements would be through the company’s contract.

Previous estimates were $5,000 per pole, although the company has suggested underground wiring poles that would cost slightly less than that, he said.

“The price through Ohio Edison is for pole and installation. We can’t just randomly pick any pole in America. We are obligated to a certain number of poles,” under the tariff, he told Cohen.

To which Cohen responded, “This is shockingly a rip-off. Unbelievable.”

Councilman Fran Figley said there had to be some way they could get out from under the restrictions.

Cohen agreed.

“I’m not even sure that this contract as one-sided and ridiculous as it is I’m not even sure it would hope up in court We need to explore some way to break this tariff, find some way to get out of this. In terms of the town this is the worst possible deal you could have,” he said.

Monteleone said he is also working with Pam Dray at the Columbiana County Development Department on getting funding for the new poles through a Community Development Block Grant next year.

In the meantime, council told Monteleone to move forward with submitting an application to Ohio Edison for approval to hang decorative flags from the poles.

Nothing can be put on the poles without the company’s consent, and the village has been attempting to hang flags or banners the last several years, to no avail.

Mayor Margo Zuch has said the company didn’t allow for banners before because they were concerned the poles wouldn’t handle the additional weight.

Should the application be approved the village will need to pay a $75 processing fee and $25 fee per pole before the flags can be put up.

Monteleone said flags would be put on roughly 30 poles and that $350 has already been made available from Mrs. McGee’s class at the middle school.

The class held a fund raiser after reading an article in the paper about the light pole situation.