Three much-discussed ordinances gained final passage with barely a whisper at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Council members granted approval for higher utility franchise fees and a new underage drinking ordinance as part of the consent agenda—a bloc of items, typically not expected to be controversial, that the council votes on en masse. They then gave swift approval to a domestic partner registry after brief comments from a representative of OutFront Minnesota.
Under the new ordinance, franchise fees will increase by about 68 percent—growing from $1 to $1.70 per month for residential customers. The fees are payments Xcel Energy and Centerpoint Energy make as a condition for providing service to Hopkins customers. Like a sales tax, the companies pass the fees on to their customers.
The increase will generate about $205,600 for capital expenditures, mainly street improvements.
Finance Director Christine Harkess as a way to put more into the city’s capital improvement plan and keep assessments down. Although franchise fees are not technically taxes, council members have made it clear that the city has viewed them as such since their inception.
And unlike property taxes, which account for more than half the city’s revenue, all utility customers must pay the fee. Many properties—including government buildings, schools and religious and charitable institutions—are exempt from property taxes.
Social host ordinance
Council members also passed a "social host ordinance" intended to help police better prevent underage drinking. The ordinance would allow the city to charge people with a misdemeanor if underage drinking takes place that they knew about or should have known about in an area under their control.
The ordinance has been tweaked since its first reading because of that landlords could be prosecuted just because drinking took place on their property. It now exempts landlords who have “not actively participated in hosting or allowing an event where alcohol is served.”
Domestic partner registry
The final ordinance establishes a registry that would allow unmarried couples—both same-sex and opposite-sex—to certify their relationships with the city. The couple must live in Hopkins and pay a $25 fee to register.
domestic partner registries make it easier for these couples to obtain hospital visitation rights and benefits from employers that offer domestic partner benefits.
Yet registries are perhaps mostly a symbolic vote in support of same-sex marriage while actual marriage remains off the table for gay and lesbian couples. Council members have repeatedly noted that a registry would signal that Hopkins is a community that welcomes all people.