Energy efficiency has been expensive for the Holiday Trust Fund.
At the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year, the Holiday Trust Fund had $46,148, according to the town finance department, which keeps the accounts. At the close of the 2011-12 fiscal year last June, the balance was $12,995.
“The money in the fund keeps dropping,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners, its chief fund-raiser.
“The last few years the fund revenues haven’t covered the expenditures, and we’ve used up the reserves.”
The fund pays for the holiday lights along Main Street each December. It also pays for police overtime needed to put on the annual Halloween Walk — this year’s is Saturday — and it finances the professional sound system at the tree lighting ceremony on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
“Unless more people contribute to them, we’re not going to have them next year,” Ms. Manners said.
Over the last decade, the Holiday Trust Fund’s annual expenditures have varied between about $15,816 in 2006-07 and $31,908 in 2008-09.
The three most expensive years came right in a row — $31,908 in 2008-09, $24,446 in 2009-10 and $26,404 in 2010-11 — when 16,000 incandescent bulbs were replaced with light-emitting diode or “LED” lights.
“Multiply 16,000 times $1.72,” said Gordie Knapp, the committee member who championed the conversion.
That’s about $27,500, which was spread over three years.
“Now that we’re all LED, the town is saving approximately $8,000 a year just in utility costs,” Mr. Knapp said.
“It does fairly jump off the page,” said Jerry Gay, the town’s purchasing director.
The holiday lights draw from three circuits that also power the 59 period lampposts around the village. Mr. Gay researched the costs back nine years.
The year’s bills for the three circuits totaled $19,742 in 2006-07. By 2011-12, the cost had fallen to $8,667.
There were also some rate changes, but Mr. Gay connected the savings to the LED lights by compared the July-August bills with the December-January costs.
“It’s good, a win-win for everybody,” Mr. Gay said. “And the town looks beautiful, I think.”
The roughly $8,000 a year savings would pay off the $27,000 cost of the LED lights in about three years.
But the $8,000 annual savings in electricity cost goes to the town — taxpayers. The $27,500 to buy the LED lights was paid by the Holiday Trust Fund — private donors.
Ms. Manners just sent out the annual appeal for The Holiday Trust Fund. Letters went to 9,000 Ridgefield addresses, asking for donations .
“They range from $5 up to about $500,” Ms. Manners said of the donations. “They used to go up to $1,000. Very few people give more than $100. There are a lot of $25s, $50s and $100s.”
Ms. Manners likes that there are a lot of small donors.
“When people send in $5 and send in $20, and people send in $1, they own the lights,” she said. “They’ve contributed to making the town beautiful. It isn’t that someone did this for us.”
But the number of donations is down. In 2005 there were 428 donors. In 2011, it was 315.
And the total donated has fallen since the worldwide financial crisis: 2006-07, $23,911; 2007-08, $22,498; 2008-09, $14,951; 2009-10, $18,929; 2010-11, $16,654; 2011-12, $17,591.
Costs had to be cut. Some big expenses — the bucket truck to put up the lights, postage on the mailing — couldn’t be cut. So, savings came on the garlands that go on period lampposts around the village,
“There are 59 light poles in town — Main Street, Bailey, Catoonah and Prospect,” said Maureen Kiernan.
For years Ms. Kiernan led volunteers — ladies from the Caudatowa Garden Club, men from the American Legion — in decorating the lampposts with garlands of fake greenery, lights and red bows.
“ ‘Maureen’s elves’ I call them,” said Ms. Manners.
Even the lampposts have lights. “There’s 100 per garland and there’s two garlands for each pole. They’re nine foot garlands,” Ms. Kiernan said. “I think it looks great. A little bit of snow — there are some pictures people have taken that really look great.”
There’s considerable wear and tear, and replacing the plastic greenery is another Holiday Trust Fund cost. In the most recent holiday season, spending on replacements was eliminated.
“The garden club sort of gave up on it this year,” Ms. Kiernan said. “We weren’t going to do it — there wasn’t enough money to put on them on all the poles.”
So Bill Craig of Craig’s Jewelry Store and the Downtown Ridgefield merchants’ organization led a make-do-with-what-we-have effort on the lamp post decorations.
There is one cost savings which directly benefits the Holiday Trust Fund: reduced replacement costs for lights.
Mr. Knapp said that with the incandescent bulbs “we were replacing almost 5,000 lights annually. And even through they were only costing us 25 cents apiece, that was around $1,200.”
“Last year was the first year I had to buy replacement LEDs. For the whole set, I bought 500 of them — and only used 200 of them. We’re only around $400 a year in bulb replacements.
“There’s compounded savings,” he said. “The town is saving on the utility bill — they’re seeing substantial savings. And the Holiday Trust Fund is seeing around an $800 a year savings in replacement bulbs.”
When the economy was strong, the Holiday Trust Fund could work a year ahead — fund-raising for the future while paying costs from previous years’ donations. “But this year we don’t have enough money before we start to pay for all the costs we’re going to expend this year.” Ms. Manners said
The fund will have to scramble — and hope the appeal brings in enough — to pay this year’s expenses.
Even so, in these hard times Ms. Manners appeal letter suggests that donors also remember charities that serve more pressing needs.
“With all the people who need food, how do you ask people for money for the lights?” she said.
“The last four years or so, my mailing has said if you’re going to give a contribution to the lights, please also give a contribution to the Connecticut Food Bank, and gives an address for the food bank.
The Holiday Trust Fund was started in 1999, Ms. Manners said, to finance events the Chamber of Commerce had previously supported.
The holiday lights are important to the business district, she said, and hold meaning for townspeople.
“It makes downtown pretty and it brings business,” she said. “It is that. But it’s also that there is a spirit. People take pride in the lights. People bring their guests that come for dinner, they take a ride or stroll down Main Street because the lights are so pretty.
“This is a quality of life issue,” she said. “If Main Street were dark during holidays, how gloomy would that be?”