Committee questions using public funds for private property
BY KEVIN BONESKE
A proposal to install lighting in a private alley along North Brown Street between the Meinen Building (Fenlon Hotel) and Bath and Body Creations, where it is dark at night with the potential for problems in the area, was discussed at Tuesday’s Rhinelander Public Safety Committee meeting.
“I think everybody’s aware that it’s not a city-owned alley and it has been dark,” said committee chairman Alex Young. “I can testify from experience from my younger years that nothing good happens in the dark back there.”
Former Downtown Rhinelander Incorporated executive director and current Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Maggie Steffen, who noted she has taken on the proposed project on her own and is currently doing some fact finding to see if the lighting could be doable, said she believes lights would make that alley safer.
Steffen provided the city with a letter from Gaber Electric related to possible options for lighting the alley. In that letter, Dave Gaber recommended an option to place five, 75-watt LED building lights on the Meinen Building at a price of $2,800 and also estimated the annual cost to operate those lights at night at $230.
Young and interim city administrator Keith Kost noted DRI is looking at funding the lights itself and having the city to pay the electrical bill for their operation.
“If there’s a mural put on the (Bath and Body Creations) wall, that would be to light that up at night,” Kost said. “That’s what they’re looking at long term.”
Committee member Dawn Rog expressed concerns about the city “opening Pandora’s Box” by lighting private property.
“I do think it’s opening up to a lot of other private properties saying, ‘Well, if you’re paying for that lighting, we would like our lighting paid for, too,’” Rog said.
Though the alley is on private property, Young said “it is a legitimate, I think, public safety issue, in that it’s a dark alley in the downtown, adjacent to a number of taverns.”
“Add those things altogether – taverns, dark alley – it has the potential for bad things to be there,” Young said. “From a public safety standpoint, I can see the advantages of lighting it. But I do have that same concern that if we’re putting up lights on somebody else’s building – if somebody was urinating on the side of my house, I’d probably just put up a light there myself.”
Committee member Steve Sauer also expressed concerns about the city lighting private property.
“If the public safety concern is there, I think it could be said that there are a lot of properties in this town where if someone’s running through your backyard, or walking through your backyard, they could trip and fall over something,” Sauer said. “It really could open it up to quite a bit.
“If the fact that people in that alley at night is a serious public safety issue, maybe the appropriate response that doesn’t have continuing costs is I’d fence the alley, or you block off the alley. That’s up to the property owner’s discretion. We can’t step in and agree to pay something forever.”
Sauer added that if DRI would want to pay for the lights and also set up a fund to pay the electrical bill, “I think that’s a great public service that they could do.”
Kost recommended having the city cover the electrical costs for one year “because I think you’re going to get the payback on it from the public safety standpoint” with the police department not having to respond there as often.
“That will probably take care of the problem itself that the private landowners would see that there’s a tremendous benefit here, and they would pick it up,” he said.
The issue of lighting the alley was on the committee’s agenda for discussion only with no action taken.