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IC council candidates address taxes, city gov't role

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | OCTOBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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A doctor, a lawyer, a coffee-shop owner, a retired professor, a radio-station owner, an energy-company supervisor, and a University of Iowa junior met to answer the public's questions Thursday.

After this week's Iowa City City Council primary, four candidates are vying for two at-large seats, two for a District A seat, and one person running unopposed for a District C seat.

All seven candidates spoke at a forum hosted by the Iowa City Federation of Labor and Iowa Citizens for Community Development Thursday. Issues discussed included tax-increment financing and the role of city government in creating jobs.

The four at-large candidates are Mayor Matt Hayek, Jarett Mitchell, Raj Patel, and Michelle Payne. Rick Dobyns and Steve Soboroff are running in District A, and one-time City Councilor Jim Throgmorton is running in District C.

Patel — a UI student who received official backing from UI Student Government — spoke about his plans to attract businesses and jobs to Iowa City.

"I think what's important to Iowa City are good jobs, good pay, and good benefits," said Patel, whose parents operate hotels in Iowa City.

When it came to issues such as tax-increment financing, each candidate aside from Soboroff had similar views.

"I think that it should be used very, very judiciously," coffee-shop owner Mitchell said.

Payne, an employee of MidAmerican Energy, said she believes TIF should be used depending on the situation in question.

"Each project needs to be looked at individually. The TIF is something that should be used as the last effort of financing for the project, not as a sole financier of the project," she said. "I think Iowa City actually uses TIF pretty reasonably."

And Throgmorton, a University of Iowa professor emeritus of urban and regional planning, agreed that TIF should to be used in moderation.

"If we lived in ideal world, use of TIF would be undesirable and unnecessary," he said. "We have to use TIF but we have to do it wisely."

"I think it's a wonderful way for cities, if used correctly, to fund areas of the cities where developers wouldn't want to go in," physician Dobyns said.

Radio-station owner Soboroff dissented, offering few reservations against the use of TIFs.

"I think TIFs are great," he said. "No ifs, ands, or buts."

Questions about ordinances which would protect illegal immigrants — also known as Sanctuary City ordinances — were also brought up.

Patel said his background gives him more insight into issues of immigration.

"I believe it is important to respect the [immigration] process," he said. "I believe that illegal immigrants should be able to live with some dignity."

The issue of self-supporting municipal improvement districts has often been discussed in city politics lately. While the issue wasn't brought up at Thursday's forum, some of the candidates have differing views on the topic.

Payne, a member of the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission, supported a recently passed ordinance creating such a district; the plan that allows businesses in a certain area to pay extra taxes and use the revenue for special projects.

"I think in these economic times, businesses and people in general have to think outside the box and promote themselves so that they stand out as someplace different and exciting," Payne told The Daily Iowan on Thursday.

Mitchell, as a business owner himself, takes a different stance on the district.

"I'm very disappointed with [the idea]. I'm against the [district] in general. Taxes are high enough as it is," he said. "I feel it's an example of taxation without representation. They're only asking people who are property owners to get their perspective on the issue."

The general election for the four available seats will be held Nov. 8.


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