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N.O. light repair proposal includes utility fee

Kevin Mcgill, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Officials with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration have made their pitch to City Council members about a possible funding source to address a problem the city has struggled with since Hurricane Katrina: broken street lights.

The source would be an increased franchise fee charged to Entergy Corp. — a fee that would be passed on to customers.

Landrieu's office said Tuesday that more than 23,000 lights have been repaired since Landrieu took office in 2010. However, numerous problems remain in keeping up with repairs. Those include an antiquated system, damage from Katrina and more damage from last year's Hurricane Isaac.

Council members said they want more information on the proposal, including how much money could be saved annually by upgrading the system with more efficient equipment.

In a presentation prepared for the members of the council's Public Works Committee, the administration said the city began the new year with a backlog of 8,080 outages, including 2,000 related to Hurricane Isaac.

Federal disaster grant money for repair will need $250,000 in general fund money every month to continue current progress, according to city officials.

The administration said the proposed 2 percent fee would be a fiscally responsible way to upgrade and maintain the system — including replacing existing lights with more energy efficient LED lights — with a recurring revenue source.

Committee members had questions, however, including how much money the city could save with the more efficient lights and whether the increase in the franchise fee would be legal.

"We've got a lot of numbers in here," council member Stacy Head said, referring to the presentation made Tuesday. "But, I'm unable to extract from these numbers exactly what we're going to do."

The city has dedicated $10 million in grant money for streetlight repairs this year, but the administration says using one-time grant money for the maintenance of the system would be unsustainable.

Landrieu has said the fee increase would likely add $2 to $3 a month to most household utility bills.