Politics & Government

Tacoma could spend $328,000 to repair 2014 wire thefts

Thieves continue to steal copper wire out of Tacoma’s street lights, causing neighborhoods to go dark and creating headaches for city staffers.

With 79 thefts reported so far this year, 2014 is shaping up to be a worse year for wire thefts than usual. There were 70 wire thefts in all of 2013. The city learned of 59 in November and December alone.

There have been so many thefts that the City Council is considering a 2014 budget amendment with $328,000 to pay for the wire replacement and repairs through the end of the year.

That cost includes paying for supplies to repair damage, but not personnel costs, Tacoma Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver said. Earlier this year, the city brought on workers from Tacoma Public Utilities to clear the backlog of repairs after an increase in wire thefts in late 2013 and early 2014.

“I wish it would stop,” Kingsolver said Tuesday.

When thieves steal wire, street lights go dark, and the repairs aren’t cheap. Each vandalized circuit can cost $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the extent of the damage.

Before 2013, the city averaged 20 wire thefts per year, Tacoma Budget Officer Tadd Wille told the City Council on Tuesday.

Wille said when the city does repair the damage, it replaces copper wire with aluminum wire. Thieves steal copper wire because of the metal’s high scrap value, Willie said; aluminum doesn’t have as high of a resale value.

City workers are also installing new locking mechanisms on junction boxes. The city has 21,000 streetlights, which are accessed by around 9,500 junction boxes, according to the city website.

Police do occasionally nab alleged wire bandits. Police say one man sold 88 pounds of copper wire in about a month’s time earlier this year.

People should call 911 if they spot someone stealing wire. Those with tips should call the non-emergency number, 253-798-4721. To report a power outage within the city limits, call 311.