Duluth City Council keeps ‘super-majority’ rule on utility rate hikesThe Duluth City Council decided Monday night not to strengthen its hand in setting utility rates.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
The Duluth City Council decided Monday night not to strengthen its hand in setting utility rates.
Councilor Garry Krause introduced an ordinance that would have made it easier for the council to veto any rate increases proposed by the Duluth Public Utilities Commission. Under existing rules, it takes a super-majority — or six of nine council votes — to reject a rate increase proposed by the commission.
Krause said he proposed that threshold be lowered to a simple majority of five votes, largely as a result of what he heard while knocking on doors during his campaign.
“I was surprised how much this topic came up, door after door after door,” he said, adding: “I heard this concern from enough people that I agreed to bring it forward.”
But Councilor Sharla Gardner, who was part of the council when the public utility commission was created, indicated she had no interest in revisiting the issue.
“We debated this issue for a long time,” she recalled. “And we decided we needed a commission with some teeth and some authority.”
Councilor Jennifer Julsrud warned that switching to a simple majority would politicize rate-setting.
“There is a big difference between politics and policy-making,” she said.
She attributed the sorry state of the city’s failing infrastructure to decades of poor decision-making by past administrations and city councils.
Besides being able to overturn rate changes proposed by the utilities commission, the council also is represented on the body. The public utilities commission consists of nine members, including four citizens appointed by the city council and three city councilors.
Councilor Jim Stauber said most people in Duluth would be hard pressed to name the members of the city’s public utility commission. As a result, he suggested the body had less public accountability than the city council.
“I think it’s important we take responsibility for utility rates and not hide behind some anonymous group,” he said, voicing support for Krause’s proposal the council take a more active role.
Councilor Jay Fosle also joined Stauber in support of the change, saying: “We were elected to make the tough decisions.”
But Krause’s ordinance failed 6-3. Voting against it were Julsrud, Gardner, Patrick Boyle, Dan Hartman, Emily Larson and Linda Krug.