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Dave Olson, Published November 20 2010

Moorhead officials want clarification for residents on utility transfer process

For many residents of Moorhead, the annual multimillion-dollar transfer Moorhead Public Service makes to the city’s coffers is likely something of a riddle.

MPS Commissioner Corinne Stefanson wants to help educate the public by putting information in MPS bills.

“I’m not afraid of the facts,” Stefanson said Friday during a meeting with several Moorhead City Council members.

In 2011, Moorhead Public Service is expected to transfer an estimated $7 million to the city, with most of that coming from the utility’s electric division and going to the city’s general fund to pay for things such as police and fire protection.

For an average MPS residential customer, that means about $18 of a $93.83 electric bill goes to the city’s general fund.

Several City Council members said Friday they had concerns about how information would be presented to MPS customers.

Nancy Otto said a breakdown of a typical MPS bill would give only part of the picture, adding that if the transfer was substantially reduced, it would translate into higher property taxes for Moorhead residents.

She cited a study that indicated that if the entire transfer went away, an average MPS customer would save about $152 on electric bills but pay about $346 more in property taxes.

“I think that tells the rest of the story,” Otto said.

Stefanson said no one has suggested ending the transfer, but she added she feels it is her duty to inform customers of where their dollars are going.

City Council member Mark Hintermeyer said he would favor a billing insert that lets MPS customers know the total annual utility transfers to the city and which city services benefit.

“I see those dollars going into hiring people to plow snow,” Hintermeyer said.

Stefanson said the Moorhead Public Service Commission would discuss the billing insert question before making any decisions.

City Council members and MPS officials agreed Friday that closer talks between the utility and the city would be valuable because the issues and pressures facing both could be better understood by all.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555