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

Davenport’s mayor: Tuesday votes on local-option sales tax in Cedar Rapids and Davenport could help both cities’ work forces and help keep both from becoming second rate

In City Hall, Floods on February 27, 2009 at 6:44 am

Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba is a proponent of the 1-percent local-option sales tax that his city has had in place since 1988.

Sixty percent of the revenue goes there has gone for property-tax relief and 40 percent for infrastructure and capital improvement projects. It’s bringing in $15 million for Davenport a year.

Why Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second largest city, hasn’t embraced the tax is a mystery to him, Gluba says. For Davenport, Iowa’s third largest city, the tax has been little short of a Godsend, he says.

In Gluba’s view, Cedar Rapids surely needs all the extra revenue it can get as it works to recover from the June 2008 flood.

“I really can’t believe Cedar Rapids doesn’t have it,” says Gluba of the local sales tax. “It’s one of the most progressive communities in the state. I hope they will listen to the leadership of your mayor and others who know the need to do this.

“You were devastated in the flood. … Do you want to become a second-rate city?”

At the same time, not all is well in Davenport even with the local-option sales tax.

Gluba is candid: Davenport’s population is stagnant and it’s getting older and poorer. Those are the facts, he says.

With that in mind, Davenport is sending its voters to the polls on Tuesday, too. Only Davenport is seeking to change the way the city distributes the $15 million in revenue the tax provides each year.

At the heart of the change is an issue that is one that Cedar Rapids leaders have been talking about and worrying about for a few years. That is, how does a city keep and attract talented workers and employers for the future? Cedar Rapids council members and community groups supporting the local-option tax talk about the need keep and attract a quality work force as part of the reason to rebuild the city better than ever.

In Davenport, community leaders think “Davenport Promise” is the answer and they are asking voters to steer up to 30 percent of the city’s annual local-option sales tax revenue to fund the program.

Davenport Promise’s promise is to pay the tuition of every Davenport student when they go to college or a vocational school. For students who enter the military, the program will provide $7,500 in mortgage assistance should the veteran return to live in Davenport.

The program is based on a privately funded one in Kalamazoo, Mich., which Gluba says has accomplished what Davenport is looking to do. It has attracted residents, increased the number of public school children, spurred home sales, increased home prices and helped the commercial and industrial sector.

Gluba calls the Davenport Promise an economic development tool. He says it is designed to attract talented workers to live in Davenport, have them raise their children in Davenport and help prepare their children for an education after high school.

Gluba says cities in Iowa provide incentives to businesses all the time to attract or keep them. He says Davenport Promise goes a step farther and looks to use incentives to attract the workers and the families. The goal is for everyone to know that Davenport is “The Education Community,” he says.

Davenport Promise, he adds, isn’t without organized opponents.

What is surprising, perhaps, is that a vote on such a fascinating idea is coming on Tuesday in a city as close as Davenport with little or no mention in Cedar Rapids. It’s an indication that Cedar Rapids is focused on its flood and recovering from it.

Pass the tax and get on with that job, Davenport’s Gluba encourages Cedar Rapids.

Whether you do or don’t, he adds, just know Davenport has Cedar Rapids in mind.

“Davenport, we’re trying to surpass Cedar Rapids,” Gluba says. “… If you don’t get on about it, you’re going to be the third largest city in the state rather than the second.”

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