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Fridley voters have defeated, by a 3 to 2 margin, a proposed charter change that would have made it easier to raise taxes or broad-based fees.

The measure failed by a vote of 1,416 to 936, said City Clerk Deb Skogen. She said only 15 percent of registered voters turned out Tuesday for the referendum.

City Council members said the charter change was needed so that they can act more quickly to deal with state aid cuts and dwindling reserves, which at current spending rates would disappear by 2012.

"I am obviously disappointed," said Mayor Scott Lund. He said the council would have to meet to discuss making more budget reductions "above the significant cuts we made this week in next year's budget."

It was the fourth time in five referendums since 2000 that Fridley voters have turned down a city charter change to loosen restrictions on raising revenue. The only proposal to succeed was in 2007, when utility fee limits were removed.

Charter Commission member Pam Reynolds led the petition drive that forced the city to hold Tuesday's election on this change.

Had the proposal passed, it would have allowed the city to hold special elections to raise fees or taxes by more than the charter-imposed limit, which is the rate of inflation, up to 5 percent.

Currently, such exceptions to that cap can be approved only in a general election. In addition, the proposal would have amended the margin needed for approval -- from 51 percent of all residents voting in an election to a simple majority of those voting on the ballot question alone.

"Folks said no to this thing from the beginning," Reynolds said. She said Tuesday's snowstorm likely reduced turnout to 2,352 voters. "The weather played a part in the low numbers, but that is representative of what happens in special elections: Very few people turn out to vote on a single ballot question. ... It reinforces my opinion that these important issues should be brought to the full electorate [at a general election]."

Lund said the referendum proposal would have given the council the option of increasing revenue so that less drastic cuts are needed. He said the 2010 city budget of about $10 million includes using $811,000 in reserves. Lund said future cuts are likely to include paring jobs because personnel costs make up 73 percent of the general fund. He noted the city had 12 fewer full-time employees than in 2000.

He said another option is for the council to bring another charter change to voters at next year's general election in November.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658