Council Meeting Date: February 24, 2014
Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613
Lets talk FY 2015 Budget (eh, property taxes), public information requests, and Zuidburg.
- Committee of the Whole (6:45pm, Mayor's Conference Room, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
We have a light committee meeting (the meeting before the meeting). We review Mark Miller's reappointment to the Board of Adjustment and look over the bills and payroll. A quick primer on the Board of Adjustment role in city government:
The Board of Adjustment is comprised of seven members appointed by the City Council, each serving a five-year term. The Board functions as a quasi-judicial body, providing relief from interpretations of the City's zoning ordinance. The Board may review applications pertaining to a variance or a special exception permit.
This board has final say on variances and exceptions to our code. Nothing to take lightly, this board holds basic veto power on established ordinances, decisions are final, unless appealed through the courts. To the Board's credit, it follows strict guidelines in consideration of variances. Any other approach would render the rule of law moot. To receive a variance, an applicant must demonstrate: (1) no adverse effect on surrounding properties/neighborhood; (2) it would not be in conflict with the comprehensive plan; (3) uniqueness of property that qualify for hardship (i.e. financial); (4) zoning deprives owner of reasonable use.
-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
Special Order of Business
E.1&2) This item sets a Public Hearing and Resolution for the FY2015 budget. The key points:
- Residential property taxes will increase by 1.2%
- Commercial property taxes will decrease by 6.6%
We are experiencing a tax burden shift from commercial to residential properties, a by-product of last year's property tax reform from Iowa Legislature. I'll avoid debating the pros and cons of the legislation for now, but tax burden shift is one consequence. To City Council and Staff credit, the residential pain would have been much greater had it not been for proactive measures to contain costs. We reduced about $570,000 in operating expenses. Without the savings, the taxpayer would be looking at a 4.5% increase.
E.3) This item involves a lease agreement for the old post office at 217 Washington Street. If you need a reminder, Council voted to demolish this structure in 2012, seemingly for no other purpose than to add a parking lot to serve City Hall. Fast forward to the present, The Cedar Falls Development Group, a coalition of CF citizen-investors, will be making an investment to the tune of $500K to mitigate deferred maintenance while making substantial improvements. The property will become part of the city's tax revenue base over the 39 years of the lease (a 39 year lease was required to maintain eligibility for historic tax credits). For perspective, it should generate at least $500,000 in tax revenues. In the City's hands, this would have generated $0.00 in tax revenue. Preservation pays in more ways than tax dollars. This is a historically significant structure that will contribute to the character and vitality of our downtown district, especially as it expands to the west. Kuddos go to the many groups that advocated for the building including Friends of Historic Cedar Falls, CF Historical Society, Cedar Falls Development Group, Community Main Street, and the CF Preservation Commission.
New Business - Resolution Calendar
G.2.c) This item deals with public information requests. The memo states the need:
there have been several public record requests that the City has received... It was determined that a policy should be developed to address charges for records, length of time to respond to a request, definition of a confidential record and other requirements as outlined in the Iowa Code.
I agree with the need for a formal policy statement. Governmental transparency and access doesn't come without a cost, especially when handling requests of dubious nature. This policy is needed. One item that is not addressed is the council disclosure of requests which would be a prudent marker of the level and type of requests. I will suggest a simple amendment to the policy... that council be notified of extraordinary requests that are (1) exceedingly time-consuming; and (2) that requests for public information that constitute mass data and dissemination be disclosed to Council as well. For example, if we are requested to submit police dashboard camera data to fusion centers in Des Moines, your elected officials should know.
Economic Development - Cedar Falls is pleased to welcome Zuidberg to the Cedar Falls industrial park. Based in the Netherlands, Zuidberg supplies hitches, transmissions, tracks and related equipment parts to multi-national customers like John Deere. Cedar Falls is its first location in the United States. Having been involved in site selection before, I can appreciate the numerous factors involved. It is easy to be enticed by free land and incentives, but a prudent business person looks at the complete set of decision variables. For some, proximity to customers will be important. To others, proximity to broadband and energy will be the ruling factor. But once you look beyond the decision requisites, it comes done to regional variables. Access to quality workforce, ease of doing business, and property taxes. Cedar Falls has 'the stuff', that many businesses desire. We must extend thanks and credit to our economic development partner, the Cedar Valley Alliance, for helping the city realize its potential. Welcome aboard Zuidberg, you've made a wise choice, may we prosper together!