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FD franchise fees clear initial hurdle

City council supports them unanimously

A pair of utility franchise fees that would provide money for eight more police officers and quality-of-life projects was unanimously approved by the Fort Dodge City Council Monday on the first reading.

The 5 percent fees, which are projected to generate $2.4 million a year in revenue from gas and electric bills, must be approved two more times to go into effect.

“People keep telling me they want to add more officers, but not this way,” Councilman Cameron Nelson said. “If there was another way to do it, we would do that. This is the only way.”

Mayor Matt Bemrich said without the franchise fees, drastically cutting other services would be the only way to free up more money for police.

“I am retired,” Councilman Kim Alstott said. “I am on a tight budget, too. But this is good for the community and I am in favor of it.”

Alstott said he believes the workload on the 40-member police force is so heavy that officers are probably leaving and going to other law enforcement agencies.

“I hate losing good officers,” he said.

He added that he gets numerous calls from citizens complaining about “drug houses.” He said he knows the Police Department currently doesn’t have enough people to keep an eye on those locations and collect evidence against them.

“I want to get rid of these drug houses,” he said. “I think a lot of crime is related to drugs.”

Councilwoman Megan Secor said the franchise fees will also support quality-of-life projects and things like the Karl L. King Municipal Band and Citizens Central.

“We’re trying our best to maintain a great Fort Dodge,” she said.

Secor, Bemrich and Councilwoman Lydia Schuur praised the work that the city staff did in preparing the franchise fee proposals.

“In my opinion, this is one of the best things our staff has put together in a long time,” Bemrich said.

He said adding police officers has been a “top marquee item for the council.”

What is a franchise fee?

The city government has the power to grant individuals and businesses franchises to provide services within the community. MidAmerican Energy has long held a franchise to provide electric and natural gas service to the city.

Franchise fees are essentially rent that the companies pay for use of public property and rights-of-way. Revenue from a franchise fee can be used to support any essential service of the city.

Fort Dodge levies a franchise fee on the cable television bills of Mediacom. It has not levied one on MidAmerican Energy previously.

How much is the franchise fee?

The proposed fees are 5 percent added to both the electric and gas bills.

If the franchise fees are implemented the 1 percent local option sales tax would be removed from those bills.

The result would be a net increase of $3.68 per month on average residential electric bills, according to figures provided by the city.

There would also be a net increase of $3.18 per month on average residential gas bills, according to those figures.

Speaking out

Separate public hearings were held during Monday’s council meeting about the electric and gas franchise fees.

Astra Ferris, chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, said the alliance is in favor of the fees. She said combating crime and improving quality of life “really just aligns” with the Alliance’s goal of recruiting workforce to the community.

Patrol Officer Matt Weir, a school resource officer, said the city’s officers are “excited and motivated by hearing the news of eight additional officers.”

“We as officers want to be proactive,” he said.

But he said with seven members on a patrol shift, and frequently fewer than that on the streets, officers just go from one call for service to the next.

Weir said with more officers available, they could spend more time serving arrest warrants, patrolling areas with high crime problems and interacting with the public.

“The addition of eight will allow us to do even greater things at a greater level,” he said.

Sgt. Caitlyn Carlyle, a detective, gave the council a detailed breakdown of all the hours the detectives spent investigating homicides dating back to November 2022.

“We are hopeful that your vote will send a loud and clear message to us,” she said.

Kelly Bradley, a Fort Dodge citizen, asked why the council didn’t impose a tax on tobacco and alcohol to pay for more police officers.

“Heat is necessary,” she said. “Utilities are necessary.”

“We do need the officers — hands down,” she said.

She asked the council to “prioritize the budget.”

Bemrich said the city does not have the authority to levy a tax on alcohol and tobacco.

“Streamlined budgets would have enough room to fund these officers,” said Scott Underberg, of Fort Dodge. “Rebalance that budget into law enforcement.”

The council voted separately on the gas franchise fee and the electric franchise fee. Both votes were unanimous.

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