Ramsey council denies proposal for charter amendment

Immediately after it became known that the Ramsey City Council was considering a new franchise fee ordinance to collect revenue for roads maintenance, the Ramsey Charter Commission met to discuss how to limit future councils from taking advantage of a new revenue source.

Most of the council believes the city’s charter commission first attempt is too vague and needs refining, so it voted against the proposed amendment. Councilmember Jason Tossey was the only one who felt it was a good amendment so he voted against the council’s motion to deny.

Charter commission chairperson Joe Field agrees the proposed language was hard to define, but he said he is encouraged by the process that has included a lot of public dialogue on an important topic that could shape how Ramsey’s road maintenance projects are funded for many years to come or just the next five years if a conceptual sunset clause the council has discussed is put in place.

Under the franchise fee concept, $8 per month would be charged to every natural gas and electric utility customer.

Some citizens have pointed out flaws in this system such as: not everyone has natural gas service, some have more than one meter, everyone would be charged the same no matter the property value or whether they own a business or a home.

Supporters of franchise fees feel it is fair to charge everyone the same amount because a person living in a $400,000 home uses the roads as much as someone in a $100,000 home. They think the general fund should not be the only funding source because it is more subjective to the political views of particular council. And they think franchise fees are the best way to get rid of special assessments that could easily reach over $10,000 when more road reconstruction projects come forward.

The charter commission’s proposal read that franchise fees “must be limited to defraying increased municipal costs accruing as a result of utility operations and may not be used to raise general revenue.”

City Administrator Kurt Ulrich said city staff believes this is “ambiguous and hard to put a definitive dollar amount to that value. It leaves the question open for future interpretation by future councils and the public and would make it in my opinion subject to lawsuit and action by residents.”

Field said this language was taken from the state statute referring to franchise fees, so he believes there should be some way of finding out how to calculate the amount to be collected, but he agrees with Ramsey city staff’s assessment that it is hard to define.

Tossey thinks it is a good amendment, he said. “I think it’s rooted into the nature and intent of the law of franchise fees,” Tossey said.

Tossey made a motion to introduce the charter amendment for approval, but without a second accompanying motion from another councilmember, Tossey’s motion failed.

Councilmember John LeTourneau said there has been a lot of public discussion on this topic and a joint council meeting with the charter commission so he thinks the council should continue these conversations to address concerns that have come up.

“We’ve garnered some great feedback from all interested parties and for that I’m appreciative,” he said.

The charter commission will continue to look at options, Field said. The commission could request the amendment be decided on by voters or only ask the council to vote. If the council decides, any charter amendment must be unanimously approved, however. If it is not, it is sent back to the commission, who once again could decide to let voters decide or come up with another proposal.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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