Nick's Council Connection (28 May 2013)

Council Meeting Date: May 28, 2013Memorial_Day.jpg

Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613

My phone and email have been abuzz with Mayor structure talk, I welcome any and all feedback.  This week, we have a light committee meeting, the main council agenda has a few more interesting topics.

-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber)-

In Special Order of Business

E.1-2 and E.3-4) These two items relate to industrial park incentives for two separate projects.  DS-Properties.GIF

The first is a 40,000 square foot addition to relocate an existing taxi and bus/coach service business, Dolly's Taxi and Bus.  The incentive includes 5.24 acres of free land (~$300,000) and a 5-year property tax abatement plan $96,525, or roughly $400,000.  The minimum assessment is $1,600,000.

The second is a 40,000 square foot manufacturing expansion to an existing facility for Blackhawk Engineering.  The incentive includes $158,000 in property tax exemptions (other State of Iowa incentives also were applied through the "High Quality Jobs Program" for 16 jobs).  The property improvements will result in $2,200,000 in increased taxable value.

I only point this out because of the significant difference from a tax base and economic development perspective.  For Dolly's, a dollar of incentive equals $4 in tax-base, a 1:4 ratio.  For Blackhawk Engineering, a dollar of incentive equals $13.9 in tax-base, a 1:13.9 ratio (plus they bought their expansion land and expanded their workforce!).  You could draw any number of conclusions.  First, perhaps our free land policy (1 acre per 10,000 sq ft) needs to be reviewed, maybe we should tie land to a ratio of assessable building value rather than an acre per square foot policy.  Second, clearly our policy encourages sprawl and new building development.  Third, it demonstrates the slippery slope of the government-run incentive game. And finally, perhaps it is time we consider more qualitative criteria such as quality job creation or minimum design standards/improvements.   

In New Business

Item 1.c.3) This item relates to the part-time versus full-time mayor report and tabling motion.  It is no surprise that I support FullPartTime.gifefficiency and efficacy (for my previous writing on the topic, click here) which is a position consistent with staff's determination.  A city manager moves us toward this goal.  In the committee meeting, Council passed a motion  to indefinitely table the matter.  I am extremely disappointed with this result.  This is a staff-supported recommendation which should be given serious consideration.  Bold decisions like this are essential to the long-term stability and prosperity of our city. Some call this a referendum on our Mayor, it is not.  Some believe this will hurt the social dynamic of the mayor position; it won't.  Some believe we can't be a great city without a full-time mayor; try telling that to the nearly 1,400 cities in Iowa that operate in a city manager form.  Waterloo, Council Bluffs and Cedar Falls are all fine places to live - but to say that we are superior because we elect a full-time Mayor might be a bit arrogant.

I have received much feedback - for and against change.  When staff and even the sitting mayor express desire to move in this change direction, I am dumbfounded by those that cling to the past without recognizing the need for new thinking going forward.  

At minimum, we should let this item move forward to council so we can pass or reject the measure.

On the Resolution Calendar

Item F.1.a) This item deals with the Mayor's re-appointment of citizens to boards and commissions.  I am grateful to all that are willing to serve.  I do want to make a leadership point, there is as much value in tenured experience as there is in new perspectives and non-tenured experience.  I believe in the virtue of the term limit at every level of government in elected and appointed positions.  Even in the breaks of the Mayor Crews line of mayorship, these were invigorating times with new ideas and possibilities - and we are a better city for it.

Item F.2.b) This item relates to a resolution supporting the 1% Local Options Sales Tax (LOST) referendum for road purposes.  The alternative is to use the revenues for tax relief.  The program has worked well as evidenced by continued improvement in road conditions throughout the city and the citizens have continued to support it.  I'm not suggesting we change the approach, but as a matter of philosophy,  I'd much prefer a system where users were directly assessed the costs of infrastructure through vehicle, fuel, or mileage charges.  But one could also make an argument that the consumption tax (LOST) is an indirect tax on the movement of people or goods.  Either way, our transportation system costs money - it is treated as a public good, and therefore we tax.  In its 25th year, LOST will generate approximately $5MM to support road infrastructure.

Item F.2.n) Relates to the River Place Phase II development site plan approval on State Street.  This is an image from the RiverPlace2.GIFCouncil Packet.  The developers of this project are doing an excellent job.  The incentives offered are directly in line with the original intent of TIF - urban renewal.

Item F.3) Relates to a resolution approving Refuse rate changes - for commentary, see my my May 13th Council Connection.

Nick's Briefs

It's Memorial Day Weekend.  Please take a moment to remember those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and liberty.  

Memorial_Day.jpg


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  • Hi Kate, in my opinion, it is hard to find good reason for the tabling. We have been discussing the issue for over 2 years, staff’s proposal was expertly done outlining the pros and cons, especially in light of the circumstances we face today from a cost and organizational management point of view. I think some council members are uncomfortable with change. Others incorrectly saw it as a referendum on the current mayor. A former council member mentioned some ‘soft’ reasons in an op-ed piece such as social dynamics, yet his financial analysis was wonky.
  • Were the specific reasons Committee tabled the mayoral / city manager discussion the same as the general opposition examples you noted (social dynamic, etc)? Trying to understand, especially given that this was a city staff recommendation.