Cedar Rapids mayoral candidates generally support city’s use of public incentives

Some candidates urge accountability with city’s use of TIF

The four individuals vying to be Cedar Rapids’ next mayor are generally supportive of the city’s use of public incentives to spur growth though some urged a closer look at the tax giveaways to ensure accountability for developers.

In a Wednesday forum hosted by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Hawkeye Area Labor Council, moderators asked candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot about their stances on tax increment financing — a key tool the city has used as a growth catalyst after the 2008 flood.

TIFs allow communities to capture added revenue stemming from property tax growth in defined districts and reuse it in targeted ways in those areas. The “new money,” for example, can be for road and utility improvements or to attract businesses through economic development agreements.

Critics contend such economic development agreements are unnecessary or government interference in the private sector.

Mayor Brad Hart said he “absolutely” supports the use of TIF.

“It’s really important for developers — local ones and people who are looking at building who’re coming from out of the state — to understand what they’re eligible for based on their projects,” Hart said.

TIF is “our last stand” as an incentive tool to entice businesses to locate in the city, Hart said. Plus, he noted that TIFs, by design, are on a property’s increasing value, and developers still pay taxes on the property value before the development happened.

Two of the other candidates also voiced support but with conditions.

TrueNorth executive Amara Andrews said, “I don’t support no-strings attached incentives.”

Andrews said that when the city incentivizes developers to pursue projects in Cedar Rapids, the city should ensure they use local, union labor as well as qualified bidders and guarantee safe working conditions.

“As we are incentivizing companies to come here, the same is true — hiring local, giving back to the communities,” Andrews said, urging efforts to create a “stickiness” between communities and companies to retain businesses.

On the campaign trail, Andrews has emphasized the need to support smaller businesses that started in Cedar Rapids. In a Sept. 3 forum, hosted by the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, she said “those businesses will stay, they will grow, they will employ Cedar Rapidians, and that’s really what we need more so than attracting outside companies to come here.”

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