SHELDON—The city of Sheldon and MidAmerican Energy Co. formalized a 32-year-old handshake agreement at the Wednesday, Sept. 4, city council meeting.
Following months of heated discussions, meetings, negotiations and debates, the council unanimously approved two franchise agreement ordinances with the utility that provides natural gas and electric services to Sheldon.
As the contentious subject came to conclusion last Wednesday, council members felt comfortable approving the agreement after removing the associated franchise fees on Aug. 21.
Those would have tacked on a 5 percent service fee for MidAmerican residential customers and a 2 percent service fee for nonresidential customers.
That change drew mixed reviews during the public hearing portion of last Wednesday’s meeting.
Former mayoral and city council candidate Fred Grein, a franchise supporter, noted he was disappointed the fees were removed and told the council he thought the city was missing out by not having a formal pact in place.
Sheldon resident Marv Van Riesen, a leading opposition voice on the deal, questioned the necessity of the MidAmerican agreement with or without fees.
“Why do they want this franchise in such a big way?” he asked the council.
Van Riesen also questioned the timing of the city’s push for a franchise agreement and MidAmerican’s attempt to acquire and demolish the Thermo Cel building in Sheldon.
Long considered a problem, the crumbling structure abuts with property MidAmerican owns on Sheldon’s south side.
“They say it isn’t tied to it, but it certainly appears that way,” Van Riesen said. “If they don’t get it tonight, are they still going to tear it down? Are they?”
Councilman Pete Hamill asked Van Riesen for a recommendation on the Thermo Cel building and he suggested leaving it alone and worrying about it down the line.
“Fact of the matter is we don’t need a franchise,” Van Riesen said. “I don’t trust it one bit. What are we getting for it? Nothing. We’re not getting nothing; they have everything to gain.”
MidAmerican franchise manager Mark Reinders spoke after Van Riesen and addressed multiple concerns and questions raised by citizens.
Reinders said he has been trying to get the city of Sheldon to enter into a franchise agreement for about a decade and his efforts have overlapped with the tenure of three of Sheldon’s city managers.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to formalize just like we have, again, with every other community in Iowa we serve,” Reinders said. “It’s not like there was any kind of a secret handshake deal that brought us to this; we’ve just been doing it for that long.”
He also addressed the Thermo Cel building.
“I’m hoping the council approves the franchise tonight and it moves forward. If not, I’m pretty sure MidAmerican is going to go ahead and take down that building whether there is a franchise,” Reinders said.
“I’ve said it many times and many times the folks around that table have said it, it has nothing to do with the franchise. We’ve been working on tearing down the Thermo Cel building for years and we’re going to keep going with the commitment.”
Reinders noted that process has been complicated by ownership, liability and environmental issues. The Thermo Cel building has been abandoned since 1987.
Before the first ordinance vote, each member of the council and mayor Greg Geels laid out why they were in support of the franchise agreement.
Councilman Brad Hindt called the conversations with MidAmerican productive, Hamill and councilman Wayne Barahona said “it was time” with the latter noting MidAmerican adjusted its franchise template for Sheldon.
As approved, the franchise agreement is for 15 years and Sheldon would have the ability to opt out at the five year- and 10-year marks. MidAmerican typically offers 20-year agreements without exit clauses.
“It’s time that we entered into a partnership with MidAmerican and work together hard on some of the community betterment issues that’s you’ve brought up,” said councilman Tom Eggers.
“We all know what we’d like to see for our community and I’d like to see some relocation going on and I think the best position for the city to that is by entering into this partnership.”