116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa City Council members have identified affordable housing, child care and climate action as among its top priorities for the new city budget.
During a work session Tuesday evening, council members also brought up ways the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds can complement the budget. Council member Laura Bergus said plans for the pandemic relief funds mesh well with the council’s strategic plan.
The plan has seven priorities: advancing social justice, leadership in climate action, strengthening community engagement, investing in public infrastructure, supporting affordable housing, enhancing community mobility and promoting an inclusive and resilient economy.
“I think if we really look at the timing ... and using the ARPA funding to really juice those strategic plan priorities, it's an exciting place to be,” Bergus said.
The 2023 budget year begins July 1, 2022, and city departments are scheduled to submit their budget requests in October.
Assistant City Manager Rachel Kilburg said in a memo to council members that the council will begin reviewing the budget early next year and vote on the spending plan in March.
“Impacts and uncertainties remain due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially continued pressures on the transit and parking funds,” Kilburg wrote. “Significant revenue loss was sustained throughout 2020-2021, and staff remain vigilant as the course of the pandemic continually changes.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih said there needs to be a “solid plan” for affordable housing in Iowa City, an issue the council has previously discussed during budget discussions. Although a portion of ARPA funds will be allocated to affordable housing initiatives, the council needs to go beyond that, Salih said.
“We need to really be a little aggressive,” said Salih, who is not seeking re-election to council. “I’ve been on this council for four years. This is my last year. Since I joined, I was saying affordable housing, and everybody agreed.”
Council members Pauline Taylor and Janice Weiner both brought up child care as another priority and offered ways the city can move forward that priority.
The city has discussed a brick-and-mortar option, Taylor said. Weiner said helping residents get training and certification to open home day care businesses could be valuable.
“I would hope that we continue to have that as a priority because that's what holds a lot of people back in jobs because they don't have child care,” Taylor said. “We've heard that a lot.”
Council member John Thomas mentioned enhancing community mobility by making bike lanes feel safer, adding that he feels like the city is “falling behind” with its on-street system.
Thomas also brought up how the council needs to have an idea of what development will generate “long-term wealth” and address some of the strategic plan priorities, such as climate change and equity.
“It seems to me a very critical time to really begin to evaluate how we grow and that not all growth is equal in that regard,” Thomas said. “So, how do we how do we grow in a way which will be not a liability over the long term.”
Kilburg said in the memo that building permit values have “rebounded slightly” from 2020 levels but “will likely fall short” of development levels in the five years before that.
Existing residential properties will continue to grow in value, which will add to the community’s tax base but also create “pressure to adjust tax rates downward,” Kilburg wrote.
The state Legislature passed a law earlier this year phasing out the “backfill” aid to local governments put into place with the 2013 property tax reform. Kilburg said that the city’s backfill of $1.5 million will begin to be phased out in fiscal 2023. By fiscal 2026, that state support will disappear, she added.
The current fiscal 2022 budget included four goals from the city council:
- Maintain focus on the urgency of the climate crisis and implement the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.
- Continue to dedicate resources toward advancing the city council’s strategic plan priorities and adopted master plans.
- Seek fiscal stability through competing financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and the final years of the backfill.
- Support households and businesses through the pandemic’s impact with fixed rates, fees and continued efforts to lower the city’s tax rate.
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