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Put funding for Moen project up for vote

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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When it comes to making the many right moves needed to successfully build a new building, Iowa City developer Marc Moen is certainly an expert. This can easily be seen as the Moen Group, the organization run by Moen, boasts a very impressive list of properties it has successfully constructed and now manages. Most notably on this list are the Plaza Towers, the magnificent structures that tower over Iowa City from its location near the Pedestrian Mall.

The property-management group hopes to build a 14-story tower on 114 S. Dubuque St. To fund this $10.7 million project, the organization is attempting to receive TIF money from the taxpayers of Iowa City.

The decision of whether the TIF money should be given to the Moen Group should be put up for a public vote, because this TIF money is the future dollars of the Iowa City taxpayers.

TIF stands for tax-increment financing, and it is most commonly used to generate money for economic development in a specific geographic district. In this case, the TIF money that the Moen group would receive from the city would come from money from future taxes placed on Iowa City residents.

Several local residents have decided the people who would fund the Moen Group's most recent project — the taxpayers — should be the ones to decide whether the property-management organization receives the TIF funding. These local residents have attempted to gather enough signatures to put the authorization of the TIF money up for a public vote.

Carol deProsse is one of those residents who helped organize the petition.

According to deProsse, Moen was able to privately fund the 12-story building that was to be built on the same site, but he went back to the City Council hoping to gain access to $2.5 million from TIF so he could build a 14-story building.

DeProsse said not allowing the public a chance to vote on the issue of Moen receiving tax dollars "undermines the foundations of democracy."

Ideally, TIF makes perfect sense. People come together to redevelop their cities, bringing business to new markets and smoothing over relations between businesses and their consumers. TIF is a seemingly perfect solution to the age-old problem of redeveloping poorer areas and creating new economic opportunities for residents.

But that is not what TIF is being used for here. There is no real need for this redevelopment, and the majority share of the profits will end up going to the Moen Group, not the taxpayer.

TIF is meant to be used in areas in which redevelopment is necessary and money is tight — not to subsidize already successful millionaires such as the Moen Group.

There is a strong argument to be made for the TIF financing, as well.

When used responsibly, the tax system can skyrocket property values, leaving cities with more revenue from property taxes.

Iowa City residents will undoubtedly pay more upfront taxes, but in the long run, the increase in value of their properties will fiscally benefit, more than harm, the average person.

But in the end, it should be residents who get to make that call. Iowa City residents would be the investors, and therefore, they should have the choice of what to invest their money into.

If the Moen Group and the City Council are confident enough that the tower would benefit downtown Iowa City and the community, then they could look towards private investors to fund the project. Private investors who would choose to invest their money in the project, rather than Iowa City taxpayers, who won't have a choice unless the project is put up for a public vote.

When the use of TIF dollars in a project is as expensive and controversial as the purposed Moen building, Iowa City residents should be the ones to determine whether TIF money will be used.


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