The Waukee City Council held its first regular meeting of 2018 on Tuesday, Jan. 2. During the meeting they heard a presentation from Lindsey McCune, Government Affairs Manager with the Iowa League of Cities about their 2018 legislative priorities and how they will affect the City of Waukee.
The Iowa League of Cities is an association that represents the 943 cities across the State of Iowa, providing advocacy, education and services as well as representing cities’ interests at the State Capitol during the legislative session every year.
Here are some of the priorities that were discussed during the presentation:
1. Local control and home rule
This is a priority that McCune said that League of Cities focuses on in every aspect of what they do at the Capitol.
“Every bill that affects cities, we’re looking to see how does this affect home rule, how does this affect cities’ ability to govern at the local level,” McCune said.
She said that during last year’s legislative session, cities expressed concern to them over numerous bills that they felt were affecting local control and home rule and she expects that it will remain a theme this year as well.
“The theme of local control kind of being diminished a bit is kind of a theme that is moving across the country right now,” McCune said.
She went on to say that they believe there will be “numerous bills” attempt to take control away from cities and local governments.
2. Economic development, financial sustainability, and continuation of backfill
McCune says that if the legislature decides to cut back or eliminate backfill dollars, it may force cities to have to raise property taxes or even cut essential services in their cities if they are already at the levy limit.
The backfill dollars are paid by the State Government to City Governments as compensation for a commercial property tax cut that was passed in 2013.
“Considering that 70 percent of Iowa’s cities have seen either no growth or negative growth since the 2013 commercial property tax cut was passed, a huge portion of our cities are very concerned about the financial situation that they would find themselves in should the backfill disappear and no alternative revenue sources are created to take its place,” McCune said.
They will also be working to preserve Tax Increment Financing as it currently stands, which she called a “great economic development tool” for cities.
3. Public Safety
McCune said that the league has heard a lot from cities about a need for adequate resources, tools and technology for community public safety. She said that she has heard from cities that say they spend as much as 40-60 percent of their budget on public safety.
“So if cuts are made to city funding through the backfill, if those [funds] are diminished or other funds that may be making their way to cities, then those cuts often find themselves coming right out of the public safety portion of the budget,” McCune said.
She said that inadequate public safety can lead to decreased economic and residential development.
4. Water and Waste Water Infrastructure
Water quality has been a hot topic across Iowa for the last couple of years and is an issue that McCune said is a “serious problem.”
She said that the league has heard from cities that are overwhelmed by the financial strain from federal government mandates for upgrades to water and waste water infrastructure.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has said that this is priority of hers and that she wants to address the issue at the beginning of the 2018 legislative session.
McCune said that the League will be watching this closely and want to make sure that any solutions the legislature comes up with include “adequate funding and resources in regard to make sure those infrastructure improvements are able to be made.”
McCune said that there has been talk about making changes to Iowa’s public pension systems, which could include changing IPERS from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan or impacting the police and fire systems as well.
She said that many cities are concerned that if the retirement systems are changed, they will lose their ability to attract and retain quality employees, which she says is the “underlying purpose” for why the pension systems were set up in the first place.
While the league will be watching this issue closely, McCune said they are unsure if anything will move forward with this at the Capitol in 2018.
The League will be hosting a legislative day on Feb. 6 at the Capitol, giving League of Cities representatives a chance to talk with legislators about their priorities and bills that are on the table in 2018. They will also be celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the “home rule” amendment to the Iowa Constitution.
The home rule amendments “give cities and counties authority to determine their own local affairs and government in a manner which is not inconsistent with state statute, except that home rule power and authority does not extend to the authority to levy a tax without the express authorization of the General Assembly,” according to the Legislative Guide to Iowa Local Government Initiative and Referendum.