MATTHEWS – With the Republican National Convention coming to Charlotte in August, Matthews town staff has found a way to fund a new lighting project through its tourism budget.
The project was presented as a tourism opportunity that will allow Matthews to showcase its features. Duke Energy would replace 171 lighting fixtures around town with new, higher quality ones, according to Lief Fitzgerald, assistant public works director.
Fitzgerald said Duke Energy will charge approximately $1,750 per fixture, along with a monthly rate of about $1,630 to keep the fixtures lit.
Commissioners John Higdon, John Urban and Jeff Miller expressed concerns about the cost during the Nov. 11 board meeting. Higdon called the price tag “obscene,” while Miller said he supports the project, but questioned the $1,750 charge for changing a fixture.
Town Manager Hazen Blodgett said he felt it was better to move forward with this project sooner rather than later, and the tourism loophole presented a good opportunity to do so.
“These light fixtures are so old and the reason some of them are tilting is because they don’t have any replacements and the wind has worn out the globe and they’re replacing it with whatever they can find in the back of their shop,” Blodgett said. “And we’re going to be faced with, at some point, for the citizens it’s going to be an outcry and here’s an opportunity, in my view at least, to pay for it with tourism dollars and not, ‘bankrupt the tourism fund.’ So, I know it’s painful … but here is a way to get it done, beautify the town and a way to deal with tourism dollars.”
Higdon asked town staff if any alternative options were available, such as the town purchasing and maintaining its own fixtures. He also asked if solar-powered lights could be an option. However, town staff said to use the tourism dollars to coincide with the RNC, the timeline of figuring out new options would not match up.
“We are getting absolutely nailed to the wall by these charges,” Higdon said. “It’s outrageous … I think we ought to put our foot down. The only reason I would support this is if the only reason we could use the funds is because the RNC is coming.”
Town attorney Charles Buckley said the RNC would be the only reason the town could use its tourism funds for this project.
Higdon said that long term, he would like to see the town buying its own fixtures and using solar-powered lights.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Higdon said. “Long term, I would like to see us control our own destiny and not be at the whim of whatever Duke wants to charge us.”
Commissioner Barbara Dement agreed with the other commissioners’ concerns about the cost but said this was a necessary project for the town.
She said the board has heard concerns about lighting for years and she felt this was a good opportunity for Matthews.
“I don’t like the cost that Duke Energy charges for this or for my power at home, for any matter, but that’s what we have to work with,” Dement said. “And to have an opportunity to use tourism funds and not be put in a situation to, in a couple of years, have to finance it ourselves out of our general fund balance or CIP, I think it would be remiss not to do it.”
The board unanimously voted for town staff to conduct an RFP for financing the lighting. Staff will return to the board with the RFP results, along with their recommendations, for final approval.
“Thank God for the RNC coming to this area so we can use those funds for beautification of Matthews,” Buckley said.