Monday, December 22

The Bane of the Tax Base

Local economies thrive on property and sales tax dollars and economic development is part of the foundation for both. In Iowa City, economic development involves a love/hate relationship between the University of Iowa which takes property off the the tax rolls while bringing in sales tax and property tax dollars by the bucket full by virtue of the tens of thousands of students, parents, and visitors that the keepers of the Golden Dome bring and the contractual arrangements that the city and U of I enter into for services.

In a real sense you'd think that would be enough to to fund services for the rest of us. But, of course, you'd be wrong. The other side of a college town is the demands that are placed on its resources to serve the types of people who are needed to keep the pump primed, your medical school doctors, your business faculty, your law school faculty--and I suppose your Liberal Arts and Science profs, but its only because of the number of students that are in that college. Then there are your students from the western suburbs of Chicago, Des Moines, Davenport--really the west side of any thriving burgh. These are tough customers. They want stuff, they ask for stuff, and they get stuff: parking ramps, policing of downtown, and historic preservation (as long as it doesn't impact UIHC hospital), as well as a gagillion bars and apartments, and a smattering of restaurants, stores, and other needed things.

Then there are the rest of us who have kids in excellent local schools, parks for us and our dogs, and historic preservation (as long as it doesn't impact Mercy Hospital). We also demand curbside recycling and policing for the dangerous neighborhoods (not the ones frequented by students, the other ones).

Of course all of us want fire stations within three minutes of our homes and businesses (although the occasional "unknown cause" fire can be good for business too). We all want the arts (loosely defined from public art displays to ceramics classes at the Center [aka the Senior Center]).

Then there are those services that tend to be used by those in need and we don't like our money being wasted, but for God's sake, someones got to do something to help those people. Of course, if they would just grow a pair of bootstraps and pull themselves up, well that would be fine too.

Certainly we all believe the city government wastes our money or if not the city, certainly the county does; and if not the county, well, you know the state does or at the very least the federal government. It's this way, we like the stuff that taxes does that benefits us, but not the stuff that benefits other people.

Every so often those that govern (and the Chamber of Commerce) bring in consultants to educate the public about how we need to get behind the economic mower and help it cut a wider swath. This month's contestant: we need to make our community vibrant for the cool, trendy people who wear the rectangular glasses and favor pomegranate-flavored beverages who will flock to the frigid weather of Iowa to be with other cool, trendy people who presumably like their pomegranate stirred not shaken.

It is how we grow the tax base. But did anyone actually stop to think, how can we sustain the community we have with the resources we've got? Could we actually do more with plans that people are excited to be a partner in? Could we actually be happy with things the way they are, but with a sharper focus?

This is the bane of our tax base, the need for it to grow so that we don't really have to think so much about why we are spending what we spend and/or to what end. It takes money to make money--at the end of the day its our money that is taken to make the city some money.

No comments: