Riverdale City Council wouldn't listen to reason or protest. In its obstinance resides the case for ending a city's unilateral power over doling out tax incentives.
Come January, Iowa lawmakers should take up an idea they've batted around for years and immediately empower counties with veto power over ill-conceived handouts such as the tax increment financing package approved 4-1 in Riverdale on Tuesday night. Specifically, Sen. Mark Lofgren and Reps. Phyllis Thede and Monica Kurth -- members of the Senate and House Local Government committees -- should introduce legislation to, finally, give all taxpayers a legitimate say over what they're expected to fund.
City Council members couldn't vote fast enough to hand over $1.5 million in local, county and school district cash to developers of a planned residential subdivision. And they couldn't care less who tried to stop them.
Scott County supervisors opposed the TIF that would turn Welch Family Farm into a housing tract. TIFs were never intended to subsidizing middle class housing. It's a tool designed to rehab blighted industrial zones. Add to that the consumption of fertile farmland and the county's objection was all but assured from the get go. Pleasant Valley Community School District opposed it, too. That's because it would sap hundreds of thousands in would-be tax revenue from the district's coffers. And it would do it while boosting student enrollment.
In a very real sense, both county and school district residents will pay for one developer's sweetheart deal.
But not just local taxing bodies raised holy hell over the city's burning desire to flout accepted tax policy.
Dozens of residents packed the City Council's chambers Tuesday night. They protested. They waived signs. They pleaded with the council. In turn, council members accused them of ignorance and threatened to turn the police on them.
Think about that for a second. Riverdale touts just 430 residents. Ten to 15 percent turned up on a Tuesday night to rail against a project.
Council members accused dissenters of being misinformed. But the evidence suggests it was the City Council that refused to honestly assess the information. The minds of its members were made up weeks ago. And no griping from county officials, school board members or residents could change them.
Riverdale isn't the first to abuse TIF locally. LeClaire ignored county-wide objections for years and handed out incentives for its neighborhoods. Muscatine is mulling something similar.
In all instances, the sole decision-making authority lies with the city. Iowa law only requires the consultation of affected taxing entities. Counties and schools object. City councils ignore the complaints and push ahead, effectively taxing entire tax bases who have absolutely no representation in the process.
It's downright undemocratic.
At the very least, county boards throughout Iowa should wield veto power over proposed TIFs. County boards are composed of professional elected officials, well compensated for what's effectively a full-time post. Counties tout entire departments of professional planners, tax specialists and budget analysts capable of truly assessing the proposed project at least somewhat removed of city-level politics. County officials are less beholden to political contributions from a single development firm and better equipped to critically analyze the copious legalese that comes with TIF applications.
And, of greatest import, county boards represent an entire constituency, the very people who, ultimately, would foot the bill.
As it stands, the very governmental body best positioned to provide objective oversight over TIF applications can offer only meaningless advisory opinions. County officials can scold city officials for bending to development pressure. They can draft wordy letters objecting to the adverse affects such projects would have on schools, farmland and the county's tax base. And they can be ignored, just like the school board and residents who were shamelessly ignored in Riverdale on Tuesday night.
All of Scott County got railroaded by a city council obviously answerable to no one. It wasn't the first time. Nor will it be the last. That's unless Iowa Legislature -- starting with the Senate and House Local Government committees -- finally decides to give taxpayers a legitimate voice.