Is Lighting A Tree A Bright Idea?

Smithfield town leaders had considered spending $210,235, or $5,532.50 per tree, to light the 38 trees that line Market Street in Downtown Smithfield. Photo
Smithfield town leaders had considered spending $210,235, or $5,532.50 per tree, to light the 38 trees that line Market Street in Downtown Smithfield. Photo

Would you spend $5,532.50 to place a spotlight on tree, or a total of $210,235 to illuminate 38 trees?  One local city council considered such an option with taxpayer’s money.

The Smithfield Town Council considered, but has now backed away from the plan, saying it has lost it’s shine. Elected officials thought about placing two spotlights on each of the 38 trees than line Market Street through Downtown Smithfield. All the wiring would be underground, adding to the cost of the project.


Town leaders were looking at ways they could spend $96,107, recently awarded to Smithfield, in the form of a NC Downtown Development Revitalization Grant.   The first priority on the list, as recommended by the Smithfield Appearance Commission, was to place the lights on the 38 trees from the Neuse River Bridge to Eighth Street. The estimated price tag was $210,235, or $5,532.50 per tree.  After applying the grant, Smithfield would have still needed an additional $114,128 in taxpayer’s money to keep the project aglow.

The discussions came just a month after Smithfield raised their water and sewer rates in March, the second rate hike this fiscal year, and after the council was forced to borrow $1.18 million to fund water and sewer system repairs.

And the deliberations at the April town board meeting came the same week Mayor Andy Moore received a complaint about the aging equipment at the Kiddie Park, which he admits needs about $40,000 in improvements.  The improvements at the Park, which many believe would be a brilliant idea, have not been made because city officials say they don’t have the money.

Other downtown improvement projects, which were not initially in the spotlight, are now being considered for the grant. They include sidewalk improvements along the 100 block of South Third Street. Another option is a $38,000 resurfacing project at the town-owned parking lot on Market Street across from the courthouse.

The Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation, which like the Appearance Commission, saw the Market Street lighting as their number one priority with the grant money, have also suggested other uses. They propose adding benches, picnic tables and water fountains to the Neuse River Greenway. Another option that could see the light of day is a wayfinding or signage system.

Interim Town Manager Jim Freeman said he will meet with the Appearance Commission and Downtown Development Corporation to look at other ways to spend the $96,107 to add luster to the downtown area without lighting the 38 trees.

The Town Council could give their support on a new project as early as May.