Chauncey decision shows it's time to clean house
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The Iowa City Council has made their choice regarding the Chauncey development and it has chosen what it wants – not what most Iowa City residents want. And even worse, the Council is siphoning money from schools and taxpayers to pay for it.

Most residents were hoping that the New Pioneer Food Co-op would be located in the new building. Many people would like it to move from its current flood-prone building to a better location. But the Council decided to exclude one of downtown’s most popular businesses, ignoring the public’s pleas.

Most residents like Iowa City’s small-town, human-scale feel, which it has mostly managed to retain despite our huge hospital complex and a few taller buildings. Many residents have chosen to live here precisely because of this character. But City Council members and the City Manager have ambitions of a mini-Chicago filled with high-rise buildings – a far more prestigious fiefdom to rule over than a little college town.

Members of Trinity Church across the street hoped for a shorter building on the north end of the block, so as not to cast a looming shadow over the small historical wooden church. But the Council chose a towering 20-story building – by far the tallest structure ever built in Iowa City – located on the south end of the block.

This utter unwillingness to listen to residents is disturbing enough.

But more troubling is the City Council’s continued willingness to give corporate handouts from the pockets of “the little people,” whose desires clearly aren’t as important as the chummy relationship between big developers and local officials.

The Council is giving the Moen developers more than $13 million in tax forgiveness – taxes that everyone else, including other local small businesses, has to pay.

Worst of all, the creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for the project is not only completely unnecessary and inappropriate, but robs our local schools, local residents and state taxpayers.

A TIF creates an area from which the all of the increase in property tax revenues as a result of the development go to the city, not shared with the school district and the county like usual. State taxpayers then must make up some of the funds taken from the schools.

Even though Moen will not have to pay his full share of taxes, the city will still get more money and can regard the TIF as a perpetual cash cow, to pay for whatever it desires.

But the TIF is completely unnecessary. Surely there must be a developer who is willing build a useful and attractive building without government kickbacks or a greedy city council stealing millions from schoolchildren?

If the Moen plan is such a great idea, why is it not viable on its own? Why does it need $13 million in tax incentives?

If property tax rates are so high that businesses can’t justify locating here, why doesn’t the Council lower the rates for everyone and attract even more businesses, instead of playing favorites?

Of course, that would mean the city couldn’t spend millions on well-paid development consultants and departments of economic planning.

The city owns this land, so it has a right to choose whom to sell it to.

But it should not have the right to divert money from schools and county taxpayers so as to line the pockets of private businesses.

It may have the legal right to do this (for now), but there’s no ethical right to fleece the public for the profit of developers and the prestige of bureaucrats.

This is just the sort of crony corporatism the Occupy Wall Streeters were justifiably protesting.

(And just because Coralville has resorted to such immoral, beggar-thy-neighbor policies doesn’t mean Iowa City has to stoop to such lows.)

If City Council members won’t listen to residents and can’t see the absolute repugnance of TIFs and tax incentives, perhaps it’s time to clean house.