The Manchester City Council’s decision to potentially fund a new city shop with tax increment financing (TIF) was met with resistance from a few Manchester residents and created a public hearing that at times was fairly contentious.
During its July 22 meeting, the council unanimously voted to enter plans for a new city shop into the Urban Renewal Plan and to hold a public hearing Aug. 12 for a proposed $2.6 million general obligation loan to fund the project.
City Manager Tim Vick explained that under Iowa’s TIF laws, the council has to include any potential project that could utilize TIF funding in its Urban Renewal Plan.
“That means we have to verify location, how much (TIF money) might be used and what the project is for,” Vick said. “What this identifies is that we may use TIF funds to construct a municipal maintenance facility, or city shop, in the area behind Pizza Hut.”
But, Vick said, at this time, this is only a procedural move.
“This is not a final decision by any means,” Vick said. “What this does is stipulate that we may use TIF funds as part of this project.”
Councilman Dean Sherman made that distinction as well.
“I think it’s important to note this (resolution) doesn’t force us to use TIF,” Sherman said. “It only opens the door so that we can if we need to for a portion of it — and we’ll rely on input from our financial advisors.”
The issues surrounding the city shop have been the topic of several heated discussions, with some Manchester residents opposing it.
Jeff Ogden wanted to know how a new city shop would enhance urban renewal and the economy in that area.
“The Good Neighbor Homes are already making the east side a wonderful, vibrant place,” Ogden said, suggesting the city sell the lot it purchased for $150,000 several years ago to a different developer.
A letter from Curt Meiner also opposed the council using TIF money for the shop, stating it was “laughable” that the new building would meet TIF’s intended purpose.
“Would the Council please publicly explain exactly how a building used for housing City trucks and equipment, situated approximately 100 yards south of East Main Street, behind a pizza parlor, will directly and positively increase and improve the area’s commerce and development?” Meiner wrote.
City documents state that “the completed Public Works Building Project will have a direct, positive impact on increased and improved commerce and development in the Urban Renewal Area through the provision of enhanced public works facilities.”
Vick said the project shows the city is taking initiative and making an investment in that area, while also increasing the flow of people.
“We’ve seen a decline in the number of businesses out there and a decline in investments out there,” Vick said. “We want to show people that area is highly sought after and maintained by the city.”
Vick said should the city not use TIF, there are other funding mechanisms the city can utilize, such as debt service or tax funds.
The location also meets the city’s other needs, Vick said, such as providing a facility that is readily accessible during high water events, which isn’t always the case with the current shop. Vick said when Main Street is closed, most of that traffic is absorbed by West Marion Street.
Several council members said the location of the building was one of their big concerns.
“It’s hard to get to, the traffic is backed up and we can’t get the trucks out and the sand where we need to,” Councilmember Tanya Bradley said of the current shop during high-water events.
Sherman echoed Bradley’s comments, saying the railroad’s proximity to the shop also can be an issue and sandbagging would be more effective in a more accessible area.
But, Ogden again commented the city shouldn’t build a shop in a different location
When asked by Mayor Milt Kramer where he would build the shop, Ogden said he would tear down the current facility and rebuild for $700,000.
“Then you could use that $2 million to stimulate more people coming into town,” Ogden said. “And you wouldn’t have 10 employees and trucks driving to the other side of town.”
Ogden also voiced his opposition to an option previously discussed by the council, a reverse referendum, calling it a “legal loophole” the council is using to skirt the public.
In broad terms, a reverse referendum would allow the council to hold a series of public hearings on borrowing or bonding for money instead of holding an election. However, if 10% of the total number of citizens who voted in the last city election formed a petition to oppose the proposal, then a vote could be forced or the council could go back to the drawing board.
“If nobody puts a petition (before the hearing date) you people can go and spend your $2.6 million without asking a citizen of Manchester and it’s a shame that you five council people will not give the citizens of Manchester their right to vote like Delaware County Supervisor gave the citizens of Delaware County the right to vote,” Ogden said. “Shame on you,”
Ogden also railed against a newly adopted policy that limits public comments to five minutes per person and capped the total time frame for public comments at 30 minutes. During Monday’s meeting, Kramer again told the council this is a commonly used procedure among numerous other cities in Iowa.
But, Ogden said that he felt the new five-minute speaking limit imposed by the council was designed to keep people like him from speaking against the city shop.