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Light at end of LED streetlight tunnel for Manchester?

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 05. 2015 12:06AM

MANCHESTER — The mayor and key aldermen expressed hope on Wednesday that they could reach a consensus on a LED streetlight contract, following a heated debate the night before over two competing companies that ended in stalemate.

Neither of the companies that bid on the contract, Philips and Siemens, won the support of a majority of the aldermen at their meeting on Tuesday.

The project, to fit all of the city’s roughly 9,000 streetlights with efficient LED fixtures, has been a priority for Mayor Ted Gatsas.

Both the mayor and a large majority of aldermen have previously backed moving forward with the LED conversion, largely on the grounds that it would more than pay for itself through annual savings on utility bills.

Gatsas, who has backed Philips for the contract, said on Wednesday that he believed the contract would come up for a vote at the aldermen’s next meeting.

“Hopefully everybody will come in with cooler heads, and we can move forward and do what we’re supposed to for the taxpayers and residents of this great city,” he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig, who supported Siemens on Tuesday, said she still believed a deal was possible.

“I think based on the vote we took, the majority of us are committed to getting this passed. I think many of us are going to work this week to build consensus,” she said.

But neither Craig or Gatsas offered details on how a consensus might be reached. While only a simple majority will be required to award the contract, the subsequent vote for the bond to finance it will require 10 votes, at a time when there are only 13 sitting aldermen (due to the death of Ed Osborne).

Complicating the vote is the question of “smart controls,” which would allow the lights to be monitored and controlled remotely, a feature that the public works chief said could lead to additional efficiency and savings. The controls, however, add $1.2 million to $1.4 million to the cost of the project, for totals of $4.6 million for Philips and $4.5 million for Siemens. (Philips claims it will deliver annual utility savings for the city of $629,000, while Siemens claims savings of $566,000.)

Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil emerged as the strongest supporter of Siemens on Tuesday, going so far as to state at an earlier committee meeting that he would only vote for the company for the contract and in the subsequent bond vote. O’Neil, the chairman of the board of aldermen, typically carries a block of at least two to three votes.

O’Neil did not return a call for comment on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the vote to award the contract to Siemens failed 5-6, with Aldermen Garth Corriveau (Ward 6), Bill Barry (Ward 10), Pat Long (Ward 3), O’Neil and Craig voting in the affirmative.

Philips was rejected by a 4-7 margin, with Aldermen Bill Shea (Ward 7), Tom Katsiantonis (Ward 8), Barbara Shaw (Ward 9) and Jim Roy (Ward 4) voting in favor. A vote for the contract without the smart controls failed 3-8.

The Philips supporters all voted against Siemens and vice versa.

The two aldermen who stayed consistently in the “no” column were Joe Kelly Levasseur (at large) and Keith Hirschmann (Ward 12).

It’s possible that Public Works Chief Kevin Sheppard’s conclusion that Philips was the slightly better choice from a bottom-line perspective could hold sway if and when the contract comes up for a vote.

Sheppard offered this conclusion late in the meeting on Tuesday (and also at the end of the earlier committee meeting), and it drew an angry response from O’Neil.

“Then why doesn’t your letter say that,” O’Neil asked, referring to a letter to the committee in which Sheppard said that “both proposals would address the requirements of the RFP.”

The debate also prompted suggestions that O’Neil and other supporters of Siemens were motivated by union loyalty. Siemens indicated that it would be hiring members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to work on the project. Representatives of the union were on hand for Tuesday’s vote.

O’Neil emphatically denied this, insisting his support for Siemens was based largely on the fact that the company had more experience doing municipal LED conversions in the region.

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