The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Davenport’s Gluba says what Cedar Rapids City Hall says: city leaders are at least as smart as state legislators and cities need more financial freedom

In City Hall on February 27, 2009 at 10:52 am

Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba served in the Iowa Statehouse back in the 1970s, and this week he was recalling how back then was the time when Iowa cities secured “home rule.” Back then, Gluba, a Democrat, was among state lawmakers who also pushed to give Iowa cities what he called “financial home rule.”

At the time, though, state lawmakers wanted to keep a tight hold on the freedom local jurisdictions had to decide how to raise money to pay for local government, Gluba said. That’s still the case, he added.

“The people on the Cedar Rapids City Council, the mayor, the council members, they’re all as intelligent as anybody in Des Moines. I know them all in Des Moines.

“The elected officials in Cedar Rapids are responsible, caring, concerned citizens who all have the best interest at heart of the people of Cedar Rapids. And so we should have financial home rule across the board and let them make their own decisions.”

Don’t be misled: Gluba was really talking about himself and his own colleagues on the Davenport City Council as much as he was anybody at Cedar Rapids’ City Hall.

He was simply making the point that Cedar Rapids’ city leaders are in the same pickle as he thinks Davenport’s city leaders and many other city leaders are across Iowa.

He was making the point that the Cedar Rapids City Council and City Manager Jim Prosser have been trying to make for more than a year. That is, cities in Iowa are too dependent on property taxes to pay their bills, and that the Iowa Legislature needs to give cities freedom to raise revenue in other ways.

Cedar Rapids City Council members call it “revenue diversification.”

One of simplest ways to accomplish that might be to let cities charge an income-tax surcharge just like school districts in Iowa now can do.

But one thing state law now allows cities to do to diversify revenue is to pass a local-option sales tax.

Only six county-seat cities in all of Iowa – Iowa has 99 counties – do not have a local-option sales tax in place. Those are Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Des Moines, Adel, Indianola and Ida Grove. Ida Grove puts it in place this summer.’

“I really can’t believe Cedar Rapids doesn’t have it,” Gluba says of the sales tax.

Cedar Rapids and other Linn County jurisdictions vote on the tax on March 3; Iowa City and other Johnson County jurisdictions on May 5.

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