In Highland Park, a small city near Detroit, even the street lights are being turned off to save money, raising concerns about crime and safety in one of Michigan’s poorest communities.
Over the past few months, DTE Energy crews have taken down about 1,300 light poles as part of a settlement with the city to cover $4 million in unpaid city utility bills dating back several years. About 500 street lights remain, including 200 newer models installed by the utility at intersections.
“It’s certainly a different level of lighting than residents have seen in the past,” said DTE spokesman Len Singer. But he said the DTE worked with Highland Park officials to come up with a level of service that the city can afford. The move, Singer says, will cut the city’s light bill from about $62,000 a month to $15,000.
“Removing lights that aren’t likely to be used again made sense,” he said.
But Bobby Hargrove, a small businessman, believes less lighting has translated into more crime.
“I’ve already had my roof air conditioner stolen,” said Hargrove, owner of Hargrove Machinery Sales, which has been operating since 1978 on Oakland Avenue.
He’s about to pay his bi-annual tax bill of nearly $6,000, for which he says he should receive at least some city services.
“I deserve adequate lighting and adequate police protection,” he said. “The whole situation here is rotten.”
Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp could not be reached by msnbc.com for comment on Tuesday, but he told the Detroit News that crime has not increased since the lights were removed.
“I had the police chief work up the crime stats, and found that most of our burglaries are taking place during the daylight hours,” Yopp told the newspaper.
There’s no debate that Highland Park, a city of about 11,700, has been plagued by financial problems for years. In 2009, state officials fired the person they had put in charge of restoring the city to financial health after allegations of embezzlement and mismanagement.
Over the summer, Arthur Blackwell II was found liable by a jury in a civil trial of violating his duties to the city by paying himself $264,000.
”This is a pretty unique situation with Highland Park,” said Singer. “It’s been a challenge.”
But he said while the number of lights in Highland Park has gone down, it’s not that “much different than what we see in other communities in southeast Michigan.” DTE serves about 2.1 million electric customers and 1.2 million natural gas customers.
“We certainly did not repossess street lights,” he said. “It’s been blown out of proportion a bit.”
Hargrove isn’t happy about the situation but the 75-year-old businessman said he also can’t afford to add lights outside the three buildings he owns.
“I am struggling to stay alive here,” he said.