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FD council considers franchise fee, more police officers

By BILL SHEA

bshea@messengernews.net

Adding eight members to the 40-member Fort Dodge Police Department offers the best option for deterring crime in the community, Police Chief Dennis Quinn told the City Council Monday.

“I can see a lot of huge gains by adding these officers,” he said. “This is a great step in the right direction.”

The additional officers would be paid for with revenue from a new 5 percent franchise fee that would appear on the monthly electric and gas bills of MidAmerican Energy customers. That fee is projected to generate $2.4 million a year.

In addition to the police officers, the money would be spent to help pay off general obligation bond debt, driving down a portion of the property tax rate.

Franchise fee revenue would also be used to pay for things like the Karl King Band and Citizens Central. It would also help pay for infrastructure projects.

The council on Monday began the long process of implementing the franchise fee by scheduling a public hearing on it for 6 p.m. Jan. 22 in the Municipal Building, 819 First Ave. S. The fee proposal must be approved by the council three times in order to go into effect. If it wins council approval, it will be implemented on July 1.

If the franchise fee is approved, the 1 percent local option sales tax will no longer be collected on gas and electric bills.

None of the council members offered their opinion of the franchise fee proposal.

The concept of adding eight more police officers generated more enthusiasm.

“This is something a lot of people have been asking for,” Councilman Cameron Nelson said. “I think it is needed.”

City Manager David Fierke said he submitted the franchise fee proposal to the council for two major reasons. Adding police officers is one of those reasons.

“We have a crime problem to deal with,” he told the council Monday.

He said that without revenue from the proposed franchise fee, there is no way to add more officers unless some other agency in the general fund budget is severely reduced.

Fierke said a recent property tax law change enacted by the legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds is the second major reason for considering a franchise fee. He said the property tax law “hurt our ability, long term, to sustain reasonable revenues for the general fund.”

That law eliminates levies that paid for the Karl King Band and Citizens Central, creates a new combined levy for cities and imposes property tax cuts if valuation increases by 3 percent or more.

More police officers

If the franchise fee is approved, the city will hire five more police officers in the fiscal year that begins July 1. It will hire three more in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2025.

Quinn said four officers will be added to patrol.

He said a three member Community Action Team will be created. He described the team as a “hybrid between patrol and detective.” It will be deployed in places and at times when additional policing is needed. For example, team members could spend time in a neighborhood where a lot of vehicles have been broken into.

“They’re going to be very driven by whatever the community needs,” Quinn said.

The hiring of additional officers will also enable one more detective position to be created.

The council on Monday reviewed a proposed $4 million budget for the Police Department. That proposal is based on the current 40 officer force. Fierke said if the franchise fee is approved, $754,000 will be added to the budget to pay for the first five new officers.

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