Mayoral Candidate Q&A

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Cedar Rapids mayoral contenders Brad Hart and Monica Vernon respond to questions collected from the audience at a Nov. 21 forum hosted by The Gazette, KGAN-2 and Fox 28.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CEDAR RAPIDS BECOMING A SANCTUARY CITY?

Monica Vernon: I am not in favor of Cedar Rapids becoming a sanctuary city.

Brad Hart: To begin, Cedar Rapids needs to be a more engaged and welcoming community, welcoming people from all over the country and all over the world. However, I do not believe we have an undocumented-immigrants issue in Cedar Rapids and would not, based on what I know today, encourage council to become a sanctuary city if it placed any significant risks or burdens on us related to our relationship with the federal government. I do not expect our police to spend time rounding up undocumented immigrants, but I am also not prepared to make a statement for statement’s sake that could adversely impact our community.

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WHAT CHANGES ARE YOU PROPOSING TO ADDRESS SHOOTINGS AND OTHER INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE IN OUR CITY?

Hart: This complicated issue is being addressed by several groups, including the SET Task Force. Community policing, ongoing community dialogue with all populations and involvement in city government (i.e., on boards) should help. Providing economic development, economic opportunities and housing options for everyone in our community also will help reduce crime. Continuing to emphasize strong neighborhood associations has and will make a difference, too.

Vernon: As mayor, I would be out front working hard to reduce incidents of violence in our city. I would prioritize community policing, two-way neighborhood communications, and problem-solving across city safety teams. I would work with the SET Task Force and include additional leaders from all neighborhoods in regular updates, discussions and action plans. I would ensure community members have access to decent-paying jobs, post high school educational and training programs, affordable housing and day care.

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DO YOU FEEL TAX INCENTIVES AND OTHER SPECIAL FINANCING ARRANGEMENTS HAVE BEEN USED PROPERLY?

Vernon: Yes. Cedar Rapids has used Tax Increment Financing for smart growth of commercial facilities, to create jobs and to keep residential property taxes low. As chair of the council’s Development Committee, I led the effort to standardize the TIF requirements to make sure we used the tool prudently. As mayor, I would use TIF funding when necessary to jump-start growth and development in our community. I am not in favor of cash-up-front incentives.

Hart: The short answer is “yes.” David Swenson, the economist at Iowa State and the recognized expect in tax increment financing in Iowa, recently reported that Cedar Rapids has generally used TIF appropriately, unlike some other communities. TIFs must be viewed as an investment in our city’s future. I believe many TIF-funded projects will be coming back on the tax rolls soon and will help the city maintain, or possibly even lower, its tax levy.

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WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU USED THE CEDAR RAPIDS CITY BUS AND WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE?

Hart: I have not used the Cedar Rapids city bus for more than a decade, so I would welcome hearing about other people’s experiences. While I am willing to ride on a city bus, I am not certain my limited exposure would give me an appropriate background to those who use the city bus service on a regular basis.

Vernon: Over the last 20 years, I’ve ridden just about every city bus route in Cedar Rapids, sometimes with my kids and sometimes as a project for my company. Based on this experience, I recommended the city 1) prioritize the groups of people needing transit most, including seniors, students, disabled, non-drivers, and low income workers, 2) plot where these populations live and where they need to travel, and 3) design bus routes accordingly.

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WHAT ROLE DOES SUSTAINABILITY PLAY AS THE CITY MOVES FORWARD? WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO INCREASE THE CITY’S RECYCLING PROGRAMS?

Vernon: After the 2008 flood, the City Council moved to include sustainability in all city departments and in facilities that were rebuilt and newly built. As a result, the city has improved in many areas, including stormwater practices and in new development requirements. Solar arrays are being added where possible. Citizens have been good recyclers, and focused educational tips could improve that, as could recycling programs for commercial and industrial properties.

Hart: The city recently hired Eric Holtaus as the city’s sustainability officer, making Cedar Rapids one of only two or three cities in Iowa to take that important step forward. Eric is passionate about his work and has already implemented some initiatives that will benefit everyone in Cedar Rapids. I would welcome his ongoing ideas. An increased emphasis on composting and, potentially, taking the lead of Indian Creek Nature Center, we may consider designating our city parks as zero waste zones. Solar energy also will play a role whenever financially viable.

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WHAT WOULD YOU FOCUS ON TO REDUCE SPENDING? WOULD THE REDUCTION OF SPENDING BE YOUR FIRST PRIORITY?

Hart: Certainly, we need to use all tax dollars wisely. One of the first things we’ll do when I take office is work on the city’s next year’s budget. I will work hard to identify any spending reductions, but we need to recognize that 60 percent of the city’s budget is for fire and police protection. That doesn’t leave as much open for review and possible reduction. Reducing spending will always be a priority but, to be honest, it is not my first priority. Fixing our streets, protecting us from future flooding, growing jobs and our economy, expanding development beyond downtown and NewBo, strengthening our neighborhoods and providing housing options for everyone in Cedar Rapids have been and will continue to be priorities for me … as well as serving everyone in Cedar Rapids.

Vernon: Common-sense budgeting is certainly a top priority. We need to keep Cedar Rapids affordable and hold the line on taxes. I’ll work to ensure the state keeps its word to pay Cedar Rapids millions of dollars of backfill annually. We’ll take a good look at spending while developing additional revenue sources, including the use of and sale of excess city-owned land and by-products, and growth of revenue from new retail and commercial developments.

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Learn more about the mayoral candidates by watching a replay of the full forum, or by reading their guest columns:

• Brad Hart: “Cedar Rapids can be a community all are proud to call home

• Monica Vernon: “Rely on experienced leadership to move Cedar Rapids forward

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