DECATUR — The city of Decatur will spend $2 million this year to retrofit outdoor lighting with energy-efficient LED bulbs, the savings of which is expected to be recouped within 13 years.

In the agreement with Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc., the company is guaranteeing $2.5 million in savings over the course of 20 years. The work will also change lighting in the Decatur Civic Center and Decatur Public Library, and add a new heating-and-cooling system to the library building.

"If we make these improvements now, we will save money on electricity to realize savings and fund how we pay for this," interim City Manager Billy Tyus said.

The final proposal, which ultimately passed with five votes, drew concern from several council members over the fact that the resolution does not include how the city will pay for the $2 million project to be paid up front by the end of the year.

Tyus said the ultimate funding source will come from the guaranteed annual savings of the city's energy bill, but council members will vote by early September on one of two options: an interdepartmental loan or a private bank loan to go ahead on the project.

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Councilman David Horn, who abstained from the vote with the explanation that he did not want to vote on the issue without a funding plan in place first, said a bank loan with interest payments could delay the time it takes for the city to recoup its investment to 20 years rather than 13.

"When we think about prioritizing lighting vs. neighborhood revitalization ... some of the houses on the demolition list have been on there for over five years," Horn said.

It's unclear how an intergovernmental loan for the lighting project will affect plans and funding sources for the neighborhood revitalization project, something for which Horn has repeatedly called for the city to devote more money.

So far, city officials have reported about $1.5 million to be set aside for the initiative to help demolish abandoned homes and restore home values in economically neglected areas of the city. Of that, $1 million comes from a donation from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

The lone no vote was Councilman Bill Faber, who echoed Horn's concerns. Councilman Chuck Kuhle voted yes with the stated desire that city staff opt for an intergovernmental loan.

The agreement with Johnson Controls is not the city's first time working with the firm that specializes in energy-efficient buildings and public infrastructure.

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In 2014, the firm conducted work that led to a $17 million water meter replacement project by the city. Bruce Combs, an associate at Johnson Controls, said that annual reviews of the improvements have found that the savings to the city's water costs so far have exceeded their initial estimates.

Tyus said the agreement needed to be approved on Monday for work to be completed by the end of the year. Rebates from Ameren Illinois, which Combs said would total $175,000, expire in 2018.

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Contact Tom Lisi at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @tommylisi


Decatur Reporter

Decatur reporter for the Herald & Review.

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