Name: Brad Hart
Address: 1915 Mapleview Ct SE
Seat seeking: Mayor
Occupation: Business attorney, Bradley & Riley
Educational background: B.A. in political science, Iowa State; J.D. from Houston School of Law
Why are you running for council?
Hart: To serve. To use my professional background as an analytical problem-solver, the leadership skills I’ve developed by leading almost a dozen area organizations and causes, and the knowledge I’ve gained about this great city to help serve the entire city and help lead it in the years to come. I love this community and will give it my all to help our bright future become a reality.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Hart: Repairing our streets is a top priority. We need to be as effective and efficient as possible, use the technology available to prioritize the work, communicate the scheduled and work being done and complete projects in all parts of the city.
Flood protection is needed to protect the investments already made and encourage new investment. Flood protection will create jobs and development opportunities. We’ll go back to the state to extend the state match thru the Growth Reinvestment Initiative and continue to battle the federal gov’t for the funds it promised.
Job creation and economic development will happen as we continue to support our startups, retain and recruit new businesses and use the abundant utility resources available here, including the new super park and mega park near the airport. We need to have precise coordination among the city and each economic development partner to ensure all our efforts are successful.
Housing options need to be expanded so Cedar Rapids has appropriate housing options for everyone, including workforce housing and housing for young families and single parents.
The city is facing some major revenue losses. The Iowa Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a lower court decision to turn off traffic cameras on I-380, which have generated more than $3 million per year for the city. Now, the state is threatening to do away with the backfill, which in Cedar Rapids is worth about $4 million per year. What is your plan to balance the budget if those losses come to fruition?
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Hart: I do not believe we will lose the state promised backfill because it will damage every city in Iowa and, ultimately, hurt the entire state. If we lose the backfill every city service will need to be scrutinized for possible savings and additional sources of revenue will need to be considered.
Some big fish have expressed interest in opening shop in Iowa, including Amazon and Toyota and Apple recently announced plans to build in Waukee. What specifically would you do to put Cedar Rapids in the best position to land a major new company?
Hart: We are in a great position to land a big catch because we have the super park and mega park available near the airport, with ready access to rail, highways and air. We have more than 100,000 college students within a two hour drive of Cedar Rapids who will come here for the right jobs. We must remain “open for business” and not adopt unnecessary rules and regulation on businesses.....or homeowners. Our city needs to be viewed/reviewed by outside sources as well-run and effective.....and use any economic incentives as an investment in the city, not an investment in the recipient. I will be an unabashed cheerleader for Cedar Rapids and work hard to make sure we are treated as the second largest city in Iowa.
There’s very real possibility one of the area’s largest employers, Rockwell Collins, could see its HQ leave Cedar Rapids. This would lead to a negative impact on jobs and philanthropy to local nonprofits. What would you do as an elected official to prevent this from happening or to minimize the impact?
Hart: As mayor I will do everything possible to vocally support that the combined entity’s HQ remain in Cedar Rapids, including reminding the decision-makers of the high quality work-force here and the reduced cost of living we offer. I’m optimistic our total workforce numbers may not decrease much, if any, but losing the headquarters will undoubtedly impact our city. If that happens I will implore the other great companies here in the city to step up and do more to help lessen the negative impact on jobs and philanthropy. I’m sure some of them will do just that. If engineers are suddenly available many existing companies may quickly hire them to grow themselves.
One of residents top complaints in road conditions. Now we are a few years into a 10 year, 1 cent local option sales tax targeting street repairs. It’s called Paving for Progress, and we’ve started to see streets improved, such as 42nd Street. What is your assessment of Paving for Progress? Is it working or isn’t it? And, do you favor extending the LOST tax to continue the program?
Hart: The backlog of needed repairs was so great many people did not see any changes or improvements for the first three years of work. Hopefully, during the last 6-7 years of the funding everyone in Cedar Rapids will see some improvement. We need to be certain we use all of the sales tax funds appropriately and efficiently. We also need to review the street construction requirements for new streets developed by others so when those streets become the responsibility of the city they last for the 40-50 years expected. Unless the state changes the road use tax formula and starts giving back to urban areas more of the gas taxes we pay in, it will be up to cities like Cedar Rapids to shoulder most of the cost burden. If we continue to grow our tax base, and as projects financed with tax increment financing return fully to the tax rolls we may have funds needed to repair our streets. If not, we may need to extend the 1 cent local option sales tax for streets and/or for flood protection.
Another frequent complaint from residents is the city’s efforts to become more walkable and bikeable, notably building sidewalks in established neighborhoods and road work downtown which has included converting one way streets to two way streets, removing stop lights in favor of stop signs and adding bike lanes. Do you support these efforts and why? And would you do anything specifically to speed up or halt these initiatives?
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Hart: I want to believe there is some method to the madness with all the changes downtown, but I confess it is confusing right now. Once the changes end I believe most of us will get used to it. The bike lanes are confusing, but having bike lanes is important. There are times during the weekends when hundreds of cyclists are riding throughout downtown. If I believe there is more madness than method to the changes we’ll need to address that as soon as possible. On the bright side.....downtown drivers are probably very alert right now!
Cedar Rapids is some $200 million short of the money needed to build a flood protection system. Elected officials and city staff have tried a variety of methods to shake loose federal money for flood protection. They’ve lobbied local congressmen and senators, lobbied in Washington D.C., worked with the Army Corps, and pushed unsuccessfully for a local sales tax increase for flood protection. What would you do differently to get federal aid for flood protection? What if any back up plan do you have to fill the funding gap?
Hart: I believe that being a truly non-partisan mayor of Cedar Rapids will help us lobby both sides of the aisle to shake loose the federal dollars we’ve been promised. I won’t care which party is in power in advocating for the help we need. We can, and I expect will, go back to the state to extend the GRI bill to fill all or a portion of any gap. If we need to extend the local option sales tax to continue to fix our streets, but use some of those funds for our local match, I may need to support that effort.
Last year and earlier this year, the City Council faced a difficult decision when CommonBond Communities wanted to build an affordable/homeless housing complex called Crestwood Ridge Apartments in a northwest neighborhood that vehemently opposed the project. While several neighbors pointed to concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff, others said that type of project would bring down property values and could introduce questionable people into the neighborhood. City Council members were torn about whether to side with the electorate or endorse a project many acknowledged was needed in the community. How would you have voted and why?
Hart: I recognize the city council members had more information about this issue than I do, but based on the fact that using the land for an apartment project seemed to be an appropriate use, that the land would be sold by the city to a private owner, that CommonBond has a strong record of developing similar projects and that the Willis Dady Shelter would be involved in providing services for the few units set aside for the homeless I would have voted to approve the project.
Cedar Rapids has leaned heavily in recent years on Tax Increment Financing to incentivize development with programs for downtown development, job creation, restoring brownfields and grayfields, historic restoration, sustainable improvement, community benefit, and urban housing. Virtually every high profile development has included some form of public subsidy. As one example, the city is proposing a $20.5 million public subsidy for a 28 story, $103 million downtown high rise with a grocery store and hotel called One Park Place. Is this the right approach? Is it too generous? Please explain.
Hart: Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is one of the only economic incentives available to Iowa cities. The city has tried to be open about these possible incentives so developers have a good understanding of what help may or may not be possible. Each project must stand on its own and be viewed as an investment in the future of Cedar Rapids. If the investment will not pay off in retained and new jobs and a project meeting a specific assessed/taxed value there should be no public assistance. A recent study by the recognized TIF expert in Iowa, David Swenson, concluded that Cedar Rapids was a city using TIF effectively and for its intended use. Many TIF projects that were built soon after the 2008 flood will be coming back on the tax roles at their full assessed values and the increased tax revenue should help keep our city property taxes level.
Following a series of shootings involving teens, a joint task force of city, school, police and community leaders joined forced to develop a plan called Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities. City staff and council have said they will work to implement the plan although some have questioned the level of commitment and progress and whether the city should bring in outside help. What do you think of the city’s progress on the SET program and what approaches would you advocate to address youth and gun violence?
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Hart: I understand the city has already adopted many of the suggested changes and hope those changes will have a significant positive impact. We need to continue to strengthen our neighborhoods and our neighborhood associations. Strong neighborhood association play a big role in decreasing the rate of crime in those areas, and there are facts to support that benefit. The community policing seems to be helping as police develop stronger relationships within neighborhoods. As mayor I will attend neighborhood association meetings to make sure their voices are being heard...and hopefully answered. Something that may help make a difference is filling some part-time summer jobs in the city parks and recreation department with young people from neighborhoods with a higher crime rate to give these kids something to do and to experience the joy of having someone pay them for their efforts. We’ll have neighborhood job fairs to fill those jobs so kids and their friends and parents can easily see what is available and apply for a job.
Are there any other issues you believe are critical for voters to know?
Hart: We need to be a more welcoming and engaged community where people give back even without the fear of a natural disaster; where everyone is welcome to become a Cedar Rapidian; where citizens participate in the governmental process and expect the best of their elected officials. Our future is very bright when we all work together.