SHELDON—“The people spoke and that’s the way it is; we don’t need a franchise,” were Marv Van Riesen’s sentiments after Sheldon voters rejected franchise agreements for electric and natural gas services with MidAmerican Energy Co. at the polls Tuesday, Nov. 5.
The Sheldon resident has been one of the leading opposition voices to the ordinance amendments and his fellow voters backed him.
The franchise agreement for natural gas was defeated 493-425 and the agreement for electric services was defeated 491-419, according to unofficial results from the O’Brien and Sioux county auditor offices.
Van Riesen said there was no advantage for the city of Sheldon by entering into the agreement.
Sheldon has not had gas or electrical franchises in place since the late 1980s.
Van Riesen also disagreed with some of the stipulations in the ordinances, which would have given MidAmerican eminent domain rights and waived the city’s right to a jury trial.
“We’ll get along just fine without a franchise,” Van Riesen said. “Our electricity is going to be on every morning; everything is going to work.”
MidAmerican franchise manager Mark Reinders said the utility was disappointed by the outcome but respects voters’ decision.
“MidAmerican Energy has been a proud provider to the community of Sheldon for many decades, serving the needs of its residents and businesses with reliable, affordable and increasingly clean energy,” he said.
“This week’s vote won’t change that, of course, we will continue to do that for a lot of years to come.”
Sheldon leaders have publicly contemplated entering into a franchise agreement with MidAmerican since December 2017 under the guidance of former city manager Sean Hutchison.
Current city manager Sam Kooiker jump-started the conversation again in January.
City leaders initially wanted to enter into the franchise agreement and add additional franchise fees and a majority of funds generated from those would have supported Sheldon’s four emergency service agencies.
The proposed fees — 5 percent for residential customers and 2 percent for nonresidential customers — drew an outcry from some Sheldon residents, led by Van Riesen.
The contentiousness prompted mayor Greg Geels in May to promote putting the measure on the ballot, which the council agreed to do on June 5.
However, the council removed the fee portion of franchise ordinances on Aug. 21 and city officials decided not to place the measure on the ballot and on Sept. 5 approved both ordinances.
The council reasoned that with the fees removed, there was no need for the public to vote on the matter.
Many city officials favored the idea because Sheldon is the only city in MidAmerican’s Iowa territory that does not have a franchise agreement in place with it and because the agreement would require MidAmerican to move utility lines at no cost to the city.
This decision was rebuked by the public, which successfully petitioned to have both franchise agreements placed on the Nov. 5 ballot where they were narrowly rejected.
With voters having successfully overturned the council’s earlier decision, city attorney Micah Schreurs said things essentially go back to normal.
“The ordinance that was previously approved is not effective and the ‘no’ vote at the election, therefore, brings us back to status quo before the franchise ordinance discussion and process started,” he said.
When asked if a future council could propose a franchise agreement with MidAmerican down the line, Schreurs said he is not aware of “any prohibition against that” but also noted it would have to go through multiple readings and public hearings.
“It’s still subject to the same process,” he said.