Coralville growth and spending drive City Council candidates

Seven candidates compete for three seats in the citywide election

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CORALVILLE — Four years after an epic 12-candidate election and two years removed from an incumbents-only race, Coralville again is in the midst of a contested City Council race.

This time, on Nov. 7, voters will choose from seven candidates — two incumbents and five newcomers — to fill three seats on the five-member council. The top three vote-getters in the citywide contest will be elected. Mayor John Lundell is running unopposed and council member Bill Hoeft is not seeing another term.

As with that memorable 2013 election, this year’s packed race appears to be fueled largely by city spending and development — in addition to other issues such as public transportation and affordable housing.

Those on the ballot are Elizabeth Dinschel, 36, a historian and federal employee; Meghann Foster, 42, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Iowa; incumbent Tom Gill, 71, a dentist; incumbent Laurie Goodrich, 62, co-director of a UI faith based athletic organization; Cindy Riley, 56, owner of Winans Chocolates & Coffees; Miriam Timmer-Hackert, 37, a mediator and lawyer; and Imad Youssif, 52, who has experience in business, finance and accounting.

In interviews and meetings with The Gazette, most candidates seemed to agree that economic development is one key area of focus. Where the candidates began to differ is on just how the city should grow and spend its resources.

The city’s 1997 Coral Ridge Mall tax increment financing district expires soon, providing an estimated $2 million to be spent more broadly. But in its quest for more development, the city has taken on more than $200 million in debt.

“I definitely think that before we do any — what I would call fun — projects, I think paying down the debt is the top priority,” Foster said.

Dinschel echoed that sentiment, noting that the city also should add more emphasis on other services, specifically those for low-income residents.

“We have to find a way to prioritize housing and transportation of people along with our debt. I think it would be good to maybe pause a little bit on the amount of debt we’re taking and kind of reflect on how we’re going to maintain ourselves,” she said.

However, Gill, who is taking part in his ninth council election, said additional property tax revenue from the expiring TIF district already is set for development. He said some funds could go toward revenue at risk from the state’s property tax rollback. The state had pledged to make good on most of the lost funds to local jurisdictions, but some worry that might be phased out.

“My feeling is that backfill is not there and you have to plan for that not being there. If the backfill comes, that’s great, but we have to adjust our budgets going out the next couple years,” he said.

Looking forward, Youssif said TIF — which freezes the property taxes of a development site while diverting new tax revenue from new construction there back into the district — isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“TIF is a very excellent tool, but when we use TIF, we need to use it wisely and we need to know when and where to use it,” he said.

One of those areas of development that has benefited from TIF dollars is the Iowa River Landing, which includes a growing mix of retail, housing, hotel rooms and entertainment venues.

However, Timmer-Hackert argued that space is lacking in affordable housing options.

“I think there are a lot of families that would love to live that close to where they work,” she said. “I think a lot of the people I know really would appreciate subsidizing housing so that we know we’re doing the best we can to take care of our neighbors and our friends and our employers and our employees.”

Goodrich, who is seeking her second term, argued that not many families live in Iowa River Landing and affordable housing might be best-suited elsewhere.

“A family probably would not choose to live in the IRL,” she said. “There are people that work at the Marriott that live right there on the IRL. We can choose to live wherever we want and spend as much as we care to on housing.”

Riley said, whether it’s at Iowa River Landing or elsewhere, one option to expand affordable housing could be an inclusionary zone to help distribute lower-cost units around Coralville.

“I think every unit that goes up in Coralville should have some space marked for affordable housing, some number of units integrated into the (project),” she said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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