Wednesday, November 12, 2008
7 News Investigations: Lights Out
Most of us turn out the lights when we leave home, but that's not happening at some South Florida government buildings where the lights are bright, and the electric bills are big. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report, Lights Out.
WSVN -- City lights no doubt brighten the night, but at a time when government jobs and services are being cut, is money being wasted with lights nobody needs?
Take Miami's newest federal courthouse. It's lit up like a Christmas tree in the middle of the night. Miami Beach's old City Hall is empty, but the lights are on. Broward's School Board building had most of the lights on long after staff had gone home, and take a look at Fort Lauderdale City Hall in the middle of the night.
Robert Lynch: "I think it's a waste. I think those lights should be off at all times when not needed."
Robert Lynch is with the Broward Coalition, a non-profit organization that keeps a close watch on how tax dollars are spent.
Robert Lynch: "It bothers the Coalition very much because something as simple as turning off the lights can save us millions of dollars, for sure."
And government power bills are sky high. In Miami-Dade County, taxpayers spend $92,000 every month for power at the new Wilkie Ferguson Federal Courthouse. The Stephen Clark Government Center, more than $83,000.
In Broward, it costs $27,000 a month for power at Fort Lauderdale City Hall and the Broward School Board building almost $40,000.
Carmel Cafiero: "We checked Downtown buildings over a three-week period with revenues going down and electric rates going up. We couldn't help but wonder why not just turn off some of the lights?"
Ted Lawson: "The majority of lights are on an auto shut-off for 11 p.m."
Ted Lawson says Fort Lauderdale City Hall may have had late meetings on the nights. We checked, but this is the way it looked on Nov. 6 at four in the morning.
Ted Lawson: "If you said you came by here and you saw City Hall lit up, and it was after 11, and it was a night we weren't having a night meeting, we'd want to know why, and we'd have to look into that."
And then there's Miami Beach's old City Hall, still empty after a major renovation.
Tim Hemstreet: "There are lights throughout the building that are kept on and required to be kept on by code."
Assistant city manager Tim Hemstreet says safety codes require lighting.
Tim Hemstreet: "If you don't have furniture or window treatments or stuff like that, it makes it look brighter than it would in an occupied building."
The new federal courthouse in Downtown Miami is one of the brightest buildings. No one wanted to talk on camera, but we were told tenants have requested lights to remain on in designated areas, and while the windows are lit, the entire floor is not.
Miami-Dade County also declined an on-camera interview, but a spokesman told us it was discovered automatic lighting controls on three floors were not working, and then there's the Broward School Board building.
Jim Notter: "There were times I would drive by the building and I would wonder why do I have lights on on a certain floor?"
We found lots of lights on four nights in a row. The superintendent says he's been making changes like installing motion sensors that shut off when there's no movement but will make more.
Jim Notter: "I think immediately after this interview, you know, I'll send an e-mail out to the building."
Jim Notter: "Please treat your workspace like you would in your home, and that's to reduce the electrical consumption."
Clearly no one expects the skyline to go dark, but in these tough economic times "Lights Out" could be a bright idea.
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