Lights left on at state building cost taxpayers big each year - WSMV Channel 4

Lights left on at state building cost taxpayers big each year

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The Channel 4 I-Team has uncovered a hefty bill - more than a half million dollars that every Tennessean is helping to pay - and the state could take a very simple step to reduce that cost.

Many utility customers typically turn off their lights as much as possible to save money, but the lights never go out at one prominent state building.

In her 20 years of working at Legislative Plaza, state Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, says she has seen the lights in the offices and hallways stay illuminated 24/7.

"At home, when you're trying to save money, you turn the lights off. So, if we're going to try to save money, we need to be able to turn the lights off," Jones said.

The Channel 4 I-Team sought to find out exactly how much the electricity is costing state taxpayers, so we obtained the monthly utility bills for Legislative Plaza, the neighboring War Memorial Building and the state Capitol.

While the Capitol is on its own meter, Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building share a meter. And last year, the cost for Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building topped $500,000.

That's more than triple what taxpayers spent to power the Capitol, where the lights are turned off when not in use.

So far this year, taxpayers have been billed more than $360,000 to keep the lights on 24 hours a day at Legislative Plaza.

When the Channel 4 I-Team asked taxpayers about the high cost, the reaction was negative.

"That's crazy. As soon as I found that out, I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'" said taxpayer John Henry. "As much as we pay for taxes, you might want to buy some light switches."

Mandy Eaton feels the same way.

"That's a lot of money. I mean, when you work so hard and you try to come up with things to afford just living, and they're just kind of throwing it down the drain," she said.

Jones agrees, saying that half-million dollars could be better spent on saving state jobs.

The Tennessee Department of General Services is in charge of maintaining Legislative Plaza.

"Well, it's really more of a safety issue. Because the building is underground, we must have the lighting available - the path of egress if folks need to exit the building in an emergency. Will we look at a more up-to-date energy efficient system when we renovate the building? Yes," said Assistant Commissioner of Communications Kelly Smith.

The state said when Legislative Plaza was built in the 1970s, it was given the most energy-efficient plan available at the time.

However, that plan didn't even include light switches in the offices.

Over the years, the state has considered upgrading, but officials say so far, it's been too costly until now.

Lawmakers have recently approved a multi-million dollar renovation plan that will bring Legislative Plaza's electrical system into the 21st century, and Smith said the goal is for taxpayers to see the massive utility bill go down.

The new plan also includes light switches.

The renovations carry a price tag of about $3 million and won't be completed for three years. In the meantime, officials say they are using more energy-efficient bulbs in certain areas of Legislative Plaza.

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