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Candidates turn up the heat on city issues

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | OCTOBER 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Coralville City Council candidates became red in the face and tensions grew high as the debate on how to move forward with the city’s finances took place.

Friction developed between David Petsel, a first-time candidate, and Bill Hoeft, an incumbent, as they discussed opinions on the city of Coralville, its debt, and the future of the Iowa River Landing project, which was built with tax increment finance dollars and is a contributor to the city’s approximately $279 million in debt.

The debate on the 180-acre development focused on whether public funding, private investors, or a large corporation is the best source for funding the project.

“Our biggest job as city counselors is to listen,” said Hoeft, a supporter of the city’s current plan which includes the use of some public funds. “I had many of the same misconceptions that some have spoken about tonight. It wasn’t until I reached out to others that I was able to make informed decisions.”

Petsel, who opposes using tax money to finance further development on the Iowa River Landing, responded by reminding the incumbent there is room for both their ideas.

“We may have two separate ideas on how we can go forward, but we’re both [for] going forward,” he said.

Pestel and Hoeft were joined by Mark Winkler, Laurie Goodrich, John Weber, Jean Schnake, and incumbent Tom Gill at the Coralville Public Library Wednesday night to answer questions from the public, at a forum sponsored by the AARP.

Winkler said the city’s planning process needs to be revaluated when it comes to how Coralville spends taxpayer money.

“We need to become self-sufficient and complete the first phase, but not keep digging,” he said. “We have to shift to more private investment and less investment by the city.”

Hoeft said private investment simply is not possible for a project the size of the Iowa River Landing.

“The IRL is well thought out,” Hoeft said. “It’s been decades in the planning. This wouldn’t have happened with a private developer.”

One candidate and business owner said he is disappointed in how the project has been established.

“I believe the corporate handouts have got to stop,” Petsel said. “I would love to move into IRL, but I am not going to, because I don’t want to take money from the city or the tax payers. This is out of control and unsustainable.”

Gill, who has served five full terms in office, was adamant the project was a good investment for the city.

“We are taking [the land] and turning it into a positive,” he said. “You have to look at the big picture. We are going to work our way out of it.”

Some candidates proposed the best way to “fix” the problem of the Iowa River Landing would be to sell it off, but Schnake said the facility is not quite ready for that action.

“I believe the original intent was to build the IRL, stimulate growth in the community, and then eventually to divest ourselves of it,” she said. “That’s exactly the path we are going down. You don’t sell your investments until they’ve reached their peak value.”

One candidate who has lived in Coralville for 30 years and works in City Hall believes the city is poised for future growth.

“I really believe we need to continue doing what we have been doing in Coralville,” Goodrich said. “I really believe we are on the right track.”


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