Government

Decorah municipal power effort fails by four votes: preliminary results

Special election had high turnout, with 51 percent of eligible voters weighing in

Signs urging voters to vote “no” on the municipal electric utility vote May 1 is displayed at a house at the corner of Mechanic St. and West Main St. in Decorah, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Signs urging voters to vote “no” on the municipal electric utility vote May 1 is displayed at a house at the corner of Mechanic St. and West Main St. in Decorah, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Preliminary results from Decorah’s heavily attended election over a municipal electric utility are nearly too close to call — with opponents of municipalization garnering just four more votes than those supporting the measure.

Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines on Wednesday said the May 1 special election brought in more than 2,700 votes, or about 51 percent of eligible voters. Results show 1,384 votes opposed — and 1,380 votes in favor — of authorizing the Decorah City Council to pursue a municipalization request with the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates such matters

However, Steines said 15 absentee ballots remain unreturned. Any votes postmarked on or before Monday will be counted, he said, noting that all votes will be canvassed Monday.

“With a four vote margin and with 15 potential votes still outstanding, we will let the process play out. We look forward to the final results,” Alliant Spokesman Mike Wagner said in a Tuesday news release. “We look forward to working with the city council and community leaders to chart a path that assures our customer’s needs are met.”

Emily Neal, a volunteer with Decorah Power, also said the vote was “too close to call,” adding that she was proud of the efforts made by the grass roots organization.

“It’s pretty incredibly when you think what we were up against, we were outspent nearly 5-to-1.” she said Wednesday. “It was an uphill battle for us the whole time. That we came this close, I’m so proud of all out volunteers and supporters.”

Campaign finance reports filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board show that Decorah Power spent less than $23,000 — raised through donations and fundraising — largely on advertising, signage and mailing materials.

Alliant Energy, operating a campaign called the Committee for Decorah’s Energy Future, spent more than $105,000 on items such as advertising, consultant services and campaign signs.

If approved, the measure would authorize the city council to further study municipalization of the city’s power, which would wrest control of the city’s electric utilities away from incumbent provider Alliant Energy. Ultimately such a move would require approval from the Iowa Utilities Board.

Such close voting results clearly sum up a community divided on the matter of municipalization.

Leading up to the special election, officials with Alliant Energy — the incumbent energy provider — and grass roots organization Decorah Power clashed in advertisements and social media over the best course of action for Decorah.

Decorah Power members say local control could reduce energy rates and allow the community more control over the use of renewable power.

Officials with Alliant Energy — which has provided power to Decorah for a century — say cutting ties with Alliant could raise energy rates and put local reliability at risk.

Decorah’s multiyear franchise agreement with Alliant expires this summer. Negotiations will take place during the agreement’s renewal.

Neal said Decorah Power will regroup to determine the organization’s next step.

“We are still committed to a clean energy future. We’re still committed to a progressive, forward-thinking community,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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