Helmut Schmidt, Published December 15 2009
Fargo city leaders divided over lighting fee
The lighting fee, which starts Jan. 1, gives homeowners and businesses a break compared with the rates proposed two weeks ago, but shifts a chunk of the costs to apartment dwellers.
Here’s how the city will now spread the cost of operating its 11,000 streetlights:
- $2.50 per month for residences.
- $8 for commercial customers.
- $2 per apartment for multifamily apartment complexes.
- $1.25 per month for low-income homeowners, largely seniors, who are eligible for the property tax homestead credit.
Commissioner Mike Williams said the timing of the fee, just before the holidays and well after budget talks, was wrong.
“Let’s give the taxpayers a break,” Williams said, urging commissioners to have staff adjust the budget to find ways to absorb the costs in 2010, and fully debate the utility next year.
“I don’t think we need to do this right now,” he said.
Mayor Dennis Walaker said the property tax rate is at 58 mills, and the city is limited by law to 64 mills.
The cost of the lighting is 5 mills, he said, removing a cushion that may be needed for rising pension costs or flood control.
Commissioner Brad Wimmer asked Williams where the money should come from. He also pointed out that the commission voted 5-0 at its last meeting to approve the utility.
“Why the worry now?” Wimmer asked.
Wimmer agreed that the timing was bad, but pointed out the city has a tight budget.
“It’s going to be something the citizens can live with,” Wimmer said.
Dave Piepkorn said he got a lot of e-mails from unhappy residents.
“The concept is excellent, the execution is flawed,” Piepkorn said. “People’s perception is, ‘Why are you guys doing this at the end of the year?’ … I’m conflicted.”
“Let’s not make a mistake right now,” Williams said, just before the vote.
Williams and Piepkorn voted against the lighting utility; Walaker, Wimmer and Tim Mahoney voted for it.
City staff originally proposed that homeowners pay $4 per month and commercial properties pay $10 per month. That would have raised about $1.6 million, with about $323,000 being directed to the general fund, Finance Director Kent Costin said. But commissioners two weeks ago said that placed too much of the cost on residences.
Under the new plan, $1,500,708 will be raised under the new fee structure, with 16 percent of that, or $236,636, to be transferred to the general fund, according to finance office figures.
In other business, the commission:
- Voted 5-0 to provide up to $3,000 to help Minn-Kota PAAWS vaccinate feral cats that are being trapped and sterilized as part of a population control program.
The group, which pays for spaying and neutering the cats through grants and fundraising, plans to spend about $20 per cat to vaccinate them against diseases.
Carol Sawicki, PAAWS clinic manager, said estimates by city animal control officers are that there are 300 to 500 feral cats living around Fargo’s five mobile home parks and in its industrial areas.
PAAWS, or People Advocating Animal Welfare Services, will begin its trapping effort in January or February.
- Voted 5-0 to raise rates at most of the city’s downtown surface parking lots and ramps. Rates would drop at the Island Park ramp, to encourage people to use it. Hourly rates at some sites will also increase.
The new rates will go into effect Feb. 1.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583