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Petition forces franchise fees to special election

FD council tables proposal that would have paid for 8 new police officers

The final reading of a proposed franchise fee on gas and electric bills to pay for additional city services was tabled by the Fort Dodge City Council at its regular meeting Monday night.

The first two readings of the franchise fee were approved by the council at its Jan. 22 and Feb. 12 meetings. The final reading was scheduled for Monday’s meeting, but the council voted unanimously to table that reading after receiving a petition from residents to push the fees to a special election.

Council approval on three votes is the standard procedure for enacting an ordinance in Fort Dodge.

The franchise fees, which would be 5-percent levies added onto the electric and natural gas bills of MidAmerican Energy customers, would have generated an estimated $2.4 million annually.

Part of that revenue would have paid for eight additional police officers. Revenue collected would have also gone to lower that part of the city property tax levy that goes toward paying off general obligation bond debt. Additionally, revenue from the fee would help pay for quality-of-life and infrastructure initiatives.

Fort Dodge resident Scott Davis, who ran for the Ward 1 Seat in last year’s election, started a petition calling for a referendum vote to approve the fees.

He told The Messenger last week that around 230 signatures on each proposal would be enough to trigger a special election. The petitions ended up garnering more than 900 signatures.

If the franchise fees would be approved, the 1 percent local option sales tax levied on gas and electric bills would be eliminated.

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.

“I’m not against adding more police at all,” Davis said after the council meeting was adjourned. “It’s not about adding more police, it’s all the other things in there. If it was just for adding more police, I wouldn’t be here.”

Councilmen Dave Flattery and Kim Alstott both spoke about the need to generate revenue to continue to offer city services that citizens are accustomed to having.

“If we go to a public vote and it does not pass, it will be a foregone conclusion that we won’t be adding those eight additional police officers,” Flattery said. “The city has done a good job of maintaining the status quo and avoiding additional cuts. If this doesn’t pass, I foresee the council having to make deep cuts. Our revenues have been flat and our expenses are rising.”

Alstott said at the Feb. 12 council meeting that the governor and legislature adjusted the rollback figures which determine how much of a property’s value is taxable. He said the state promised to give local communities money to replace what they lost due to that change. But now he said, the state is reducing that backfill money.

“We are reacting to what the state has done to us,” he said at last night’s meeting. “This isn’t something we want to do, but we have to. Dave is right. If we don’t pass this, we’ll have to make cuts. We are losing revenue and we can’t provide the services you want.”

Flattery said at the Feb. 12 council meeting that the city is facing a $450,000 general fund deficit in the 2024-2025 budget because of changes in Iowa code.

Fort Dodge Chief of Police Dennis Quinn also addressed the council before the vote to table the final reading. He thanked the council for listening to him and other officers speak about the need for additional officers.

“I appreciate your willingness to move the department forward with these franchise fees. We realize how much you were supporting us,” he said.

City Manager David Fierke said the next step is for the council to propose a resolution to hold a special election. He said special elections can be held in September, November or March. He said it was probably too close to have the election held this March.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to award a contract for the South Downtown Drainage Improvements Project, Phase 2.

Rasch Construction of Fort Dodge was unanimously awarded the project. Rasch was the only company to submit a bid.

“This is a good project and I am glad to see it awarded to a local contractor,” said Mayor Matt Bemrich.

The final bid was $3,876,054.60 for Bid Alternate A, which included PCC (plain cement concrete) roadway construction for the southern portion of the project along Third Avenue South and 12th Street. A second bid, Bid Alternate B, included HMA (hot mix asphalt) roadway construction for the area. PCC was recommended by the engineering staff and Snyder & Associates.

The project will be funded through the Storm Water Utility.

Fierke said the project should be able to start this spring. He estimated it would be completed in about two years.

Phase 1 was bid in February of 2021 and the project was awarded to S.M. Hentges and Sons of Jordan, Minnesota. Work on Phase 1 was completed in August of 2022.

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