I have lived in Coralville since 1996, raised three sons here, and worked as a professor at the University of Iowa. I managed various multi-million-dollar research projects from the National Institutes of Health for work on cochlear implants and hearing aids, and was funded without interruption for 26 years.
I am stepping down as a UI professor this year to retire in Coralville. I am most concerned that Coralville’s financial condition and recent bond rating downgrades (including Moody’s) may hurt my vision of Coralville as a community with a stable financial future.
With Coralville’s large debt load (nearly $300 million for a community of 18,000), half of it from owning the Iowa River Landing Project, the bond rating agencies now put Coralville on the “high-risk” list. When we look at those big shiny buildings at the Iowa River Landing, we must remember that we have not paid for them yet.
They were purchased on the public’s credit card and the bulk still needs to be paid for. Blighted areas (brown fields) in the IRL could have been cheaply turned into green park areas, while waiting for private investments.
The “down payment” for those buildings came from the tax increment financing funds from the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville. I contrast Coralville’s situation with that of Schaumberg, Ill., also home to a large shopping district for the past 42 years. Until 2009, Schaumberg completely eliminated residential property taxes by paying for city services from mall taxes and at the same time providing tax money to the schools.
I would like to put Coralville on a similar track where the tax moneys from commercial properties are used to fill in and supplement the City’s (and schools’) regular budget, instead of taking risks by borrowing even more money to own such businesses as hotels, breweries, condominiums and office space. These risky ventures are, in my opinion, outside the normal duties of a city government.
I must admit, that recovering from the massive debt load will not be an easy task, no matter what anyone tells you. I am a realist, and I know how to run a tight financial ship. The main ingredient for security in any financial entity has always been a low debt level.
My vision for Coralville is that we forgo the risky “non-essential” business ventures and use our money to continue to provide the excellent essential services such as roads, sewers, parks, trails and schools to which we are accustomed.