Two-term City Council incumbent Pat Shey and challengers Robert Bates, Robin Kash and Alan Modracek fielded a long list of questions Tuesday night at a forum attended by about 60 people and sponsored by the League of Women Voters Linn County.
There was a clear divide on the Nov. ballot measure to extend the 1-percent local-option sales tax for 10 years to fix streets.
Shey, an attorney, small-business owner and former state legislator, alone among the four said he supported the measure, terming it “impossible” to take on the large task of fixing streets by relying, as now, on those who pay property taxes. The population of the city almost doubles each day as people come into Cedar Rapids, and the sales tax gives them a chance to help pay to keep up the streets they use, he said.
Kash, 72, a retired Presbyterian minister and the operator of Neighborhood Network News; Modracek, 33, an industrial crane repairman; and Bates, 47, who is a game vendor at events, all said they did not support the tax extension.
Kash said the city had “myriad” other possible ways to find the funds to fix streets, suggesting, for instance, that those who drive the heaviest vehicles should pay more in vehicle registration fees. Kash also said locking up the city’s ability to charge a local-option sales tax for 10 years could prevent the city from going to voters later to ask to use the tax for flood protection.
Modracek said he would vote no on the tax question because the ballot language isn’t specific enough. At the same time, he said his discussions with voters indicates that the tax will pass, and so he said he will make sure as a council member that the funds are used correctly.
Bates said the city already has money for streets. He said the city should be using revenue generated by the city’s traffic enforcement cameras and by an impound fee it imposes on cars towed after certain violations to pay for street repair.
The four were asked about the city’s new nuisance property abatement law, and Shey, who helped shepherd the law toward approval, pointed to a rundown apartment complex on Bever Avenue SE ceremoniously demolished a year ago as a place where the city spent an estimated $40,000 alone just sending police to answer calls. The new city law holds bad landlords like that accountable for their tenants, he said.
Modracek disagreed. He said landlords are small-business people and the new law, which assesses fees against landlords of nuisance properties, will cost them too much.
Kash said the law’s requirement that landlords check tenant backgrounds was a “good idea,” while Bates said it discriminates against someone like him. He makes no secret that he has a criminal background. He asked — is the landlord going to check to see that he’s worked with local helping-services agencies or just look at his criminal record?
On the question of tax incentives, Kash said the city should take a more regional approach and not compete against other cities in the metro area as much. The metro area should figure out a way to share tax revenue brought in when one city garners a new business, he said.
Shey said the city’s best opportunity of using economic incentives often comes in supporting businesses already in the city. He pointed to the company Raining Rose, which he said could have built its new facility anywhere, but chose to stay in Cedar Rapids with the help of City Hall incentives.
Shey said the current City Council has met its goals, the city is back on its feet after the 2008 flood and the city is see an “unprecedented” amount of private-sector investment in the community.
Modracek, who called himself “blue collar” and who fixes cranes at Konecranes, said the city needs to add to add manufacturing and industrial jobs and the local economy will grow.
Kash said the city has a lot of vacant office space downtown and some of it could be repurposed into residential units. Bates said the city could use a Family Video store and new Chinese restaurant across from Smulekoff’s.
Shey, Modracek and Kash all like the city’s support for bike lanes in the city. Bike lanes say, “We’re a progressive city,” Shey said. Kash said he rides a bike, and Modracek said he takes his family on bike rides. “I’d like to see them all over the place,” he said of bike lanes.
One questioner asked if the city should provide free parking for veterans who use the city’s Veterans Memorial Building, now under renovation. Modracek, who spent six years in the U.S. Navy, said he’d be “offended” if given free parking as a veteran.
Last night’s forum was held at the First Presbyterian Church, 310 Fifth St. SE.
District 3 had eight voting precincts with most voters residing in southeast Cedar Rapids, including downtown. The district also includes some voters in southwest Cedar Rapids, including the Czech Village area; a little of northeast Cedar Rapids, including the Coe College campus; and a little of northwest Cedar Rapids.