Merriam seeking CDBG funds for better street lighting

Energy-efficient lighting, safer streets and better visibility at night. These are some of Merriam’s goals as it continues to improve street lighting through federal funding.

The Merriam council this week unanimously approved the city’s application for $77,785 of Community Development Block Grant funding. If the Johnson County Community Development Office approves the application, Merriam will use the funds to replace 11 Kansas City Power and Light “cobra” streetlights with 15 shorter, pedestrian-friendly streetlights. The targeted area is Bryan Place and Vernon Place neighborhoods, which includes West 65th Drive, West 66th Street, Antioch Road, West 67th Street and Eby Place. 

The total project cost is $103,935, according to Merriam’s CDBG application. The city will make up the remainder of the project cost through capital improvement projects (CIP) funds of $9,500 as well as public works in-kind labor of $16,650.

Before voting during its May 14 meeting, the council heard Community Development Director Bryan Dyer explain how Merriam is qualified to receive CDBG funding.

Most of the census tracts in Merriam qualify, Dyer added, but that doesn’t mean Merriam’s population is predominantly low income. Johnson County’s median income, which is more than $78,000, sets the bar for Merriam’s CDBG qualification status.

A city in Johnson County is eligible for CDBG funding when 50 percent of its population is at 80 percent of the county’s median income, Dyer said. This year, however, the Housing and Urban Development dropped the standard to 34 percent of its population because Johnson County’s median income is so high.

“I think it’s important to note that because our income levels in Johnson County are so high, HUD each year issues an exception for Johnson County,” Dyer told the council, adding that HUD does this for other counties across the country.

Dyer said the new, energy-efficient and decorative streetlights will provide more lighting and visibility for pedestrians and motorists, increasing safety in neighborhoods.

The new streetlights are also metered, unlike the KCP&L “cobra” lights; this means Merriam will pay for exactly how much energy it uses, instead of relying on KCP&L to give an estimated number of kilowatts used.