Franchise talk on March 6

Sheldon city staff and elected officials discuss the parameters of a potential franchise agreement with MidAmerican Energy Co. at the Wednesday, March 6, city council meeting.

SHELDON—The Sheldon City Council has a challenge on its hands in convincing citizens the community has need of franchise agreement/fee with MidAmerican Energy Co.

Led by Marv Van Riesen, who has been one of the council’s most outspoken critics, three Sheldon residents spoke out against the proposal at the Wednesday, March 6, council meeting.

Harv Bauman, a retired Sheldon schoolteacher, also was one of the three. He noted he and a lot of other retirees are on a fixed income and he “doesn’t see that becoming unfixed anytime soon.”

Bauman asked the council to consider putting the measure up to a vote by residents. Citizens also can petition to have the measure placed on the ballot.

The city of Sheldon has been considering entering into a franchise agreement with Iowa’s largest utility since December 2017 but recently became more proactive about it.

MidAmerican provides electric and natural gas services to Sheldon.

Franchise fees serve as a revenue source for cities through an agreement reached with a community’s utility provider in which the company attaches an additional line item on a customer’s bill.

In exchange, the utility is granted the right of way in public areas and, with approval from the city council, can authorize the use of eminent domain on landowners. Other stipulations can be negotiated by both sides.

At a rate of 3 percent, a person with a $237 monthly bill would see an increase of $7.11 on their bill. MidAmerican also estimates the city could generate an additional $375,000 from citizens at that rate.

Van Riesen, who called the whole proposal a money grab at the Feb. 20 council meeting, remained just as passionate about the topic last Wednesday and challenged the council to look for more cuts in the budget.

“It’s a tax and it’s wrong,” he said.

During his time at the podium, Van Riesen made some remarks that rubbed a few members of the council the wrong way, which led to councilman Greg Geels defending the integrity of himself and other city officials.

“This process, I have done my level best as a councilman who represents the citizens of this community to do this in a way that is done well and does reflect the integrity that I live by,” Geels said. “I’m tired of you pointing fingers and you always have this accusation that there is something going on here under the table that you are not aware and that is definitely not the case.”

Van Riesen tried to interject, but mayor pro tem Brad Hindt stopped Van Riesen because Geels still had the floor.

“I’ve taken enough from you, enough from the accusations,” Geels said. “If you want to have a conversation — a decent conversation — come to the table and have a decent conversation.”

“You always come with an agenda and that agenda is always you are doing something under the table.”

Before sparring with Van Riesen, the council did debate among itself about what the revenue purpose statement for any potential franchise fee should state.

During previous meetings, the council has pitched using franchise fee revenue to support the city’s emergency services; however, the initial draft of the statement gave those funds much broad spending purposes.

Hindt, also the first captain of Sheldon Fire Co., challenged his colleagues on this.

His rationale was ultimately supported and the updated revenue purpose state states that dollars generated can be used to equip fire, police, emergency services and for the acquisition of real estate needed for such purposes.

Although there were objections, the city intends to move forward the franchise agreement with MidAmerican, which would last for 15 years with an option to reopen at five.

No fee amount has been set, but city accounts, public and private schools and Northwest Iowa Community College will be excluded if ever one is implemented.

The first reading of the gas and electric ordinances is set for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 15.