As Iowa lawmakers prepare for a return to policymaking in a few weeks, Davenport city officials have five areas of focus on their legislative wish list: preservation of backfill funding, continued use of tax increment financing districts, money for juvenile corrections, wider ability to issue traffic camera penalties and tighter fireworks regulations.
The priorities are outlined in a report aldermen are expected to approve in a few weeks. Lobbying efforts are routinely laid out before the state’s legislative session begins. This year's session begins Jan. 14.
Here’s a look at the positions the city will take on the issues:
One of the largest concerns among city officials is the preservation of state-level funding known in shorthand as the backfill, which puts nearly $3 million annually toward Davenport’s coffers.
The money is received by cities across the state as part of an earlier agreement to make municipalities whole after Iowa lawmakers approved a large tax break for commercial and multi-residential properties. Iowa Republicans tried to stop the backfill payments during last year’s session, but those bills never became law.
Now, city officials fear the money is at risk because Republicans head to Des Moines with at least two years of practically unfettered control over the House, Senate and governor’s office.
Davenport wants to see “necessary backfill funding for Iowa cities,” according to the city’s report. If that is not possible, the state should work with cities to have the backfill payments phased out over time or find other funding tools to replace the loss, the report says.
Tax increment financing districts
Davenport wants no legislation to pass that would limit the city’s ability to use tax increment financing, a common tax break method that’s often used to attract investors to certain areas targeted for rehabilitation or economic development.
Among the city’s talking points are the $575 million invested in those areas and nearly 1,200 resulting jobs, according to the report. Officials also say that the practice has benefits that reach citywide, not simply the businesses within the boundary lines.
Juvenile crime and justice
After several months of discussions about what’s been described by city and law enforcement officials as a trend of car thefts often committed by thrill-seeking teens, Davenport wants the state to remove regulatory hurdles and help pay for a juvenile assessment center.
The center has been billed by city officials as a long-term goal to help connect troubled youth with nonprofit agencies and social services.
In recent weeks, Mayor Frank Klipsch cast a vision of a one-stop-shop for juveniles to be screened for services before entering the court system. He also described it as a place entire families would get help.
The city’s report doesn’t say how much they’ll ask the state to chip in. But city officials have said some of the money could come from Davenport’s budget or private donations, too.
Davenport wants to be able to collect fines for traffic camera violations in cases when the ticketed person has not contested the charge, a suggestion that comes a few months after the state’s Supreme Court ruled cities couldn’t do so without putting each case through the court system.
“This ruling significantly damages the integrity of the traffic system by providing the easiest method for violators to avoid penalties for running red lights or speeding on Davenport streets; they must simply do nothing,” the city’s report says.
The city’s request comes after a dramatic year for traffic cameras in Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court also found in April that the Iowa Department of Transportation didn’t have authority to turn off or remove cameras.
City officials say they took in about $1.1 million in fines during the last fiscal year. They also credit the cameras with reducing crashes and giving Davenport police officers time to do other things.
The city also suggests traffic camera laws should be applied uniformly across the state and wants to oppose any efforts to remove or limit them.
When it comes to a fairly recent lifting of the state’s fireworks ban, city officials say they want state lawmakers to make inspections mandatory for dealers and reimburse local agencies that do inspections on the state’s behalf.
City officials say the fire department spent about two days inspecting sites over the summer at the state fire marshal's request. They also say that it cost about $2,500 to do that before considering the time lost for other commercial inspections that the department could have been doing instead.
Davenport officials also say fireworks citations have skyrocketed since state law opened up that door. During 2018, police issued 18 citations for using fireworks outside the designated time frame, compared to none in 2016 before the new laws were put in place, according to the report.
Davenport allows fireworks to be used only on July 3 and July 4 and Dec. 31. Iowa lawmakers lifted the longstanding ban in May of 2017, allowing cities to create rules concerning the use or prohibition of fireworks. But, under state law, cities cannot restrict their sale.