SSMID poses tough decision for council

T-R PHOTO BY JEFF HUTTON Is a Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District in the works for downtown Marshalltown. The Marshalltown City Council will soon decide.

Marshalltown City Councilors may have approximately one month to think about approving, or declining a downtown Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District.

They are scheduled to vote at tonight’s regular meeting to put it on the Oct. 9 meeting agenda.

SSMID is a self-imposed levy upon commercial and industrial property taxable value within a district. That is, a downtown building owner would agree to have the SSMID levy added to their overall costs of doing business.

The funds collected from the levy are restricted to improving the business and cultural environment of a specific district.

The Central District/Main Street program staff and volunteers have been working most of this year promoting SSMID.

Importantly, the Oct. 9 vote will immediately follow Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer’s report from the extensive program debate from the Sept. 7 Planning and Zoning Commission.

Sept. 7 P&Z Meeting

Businesses against SSMID mustered forces much like proponents had at the Aug. 28 city council meeting.

Of 13 businesses present at the P&Z meeting, 12 were opposed, with one in favor.

Businessmen Tim Hoffman, Jonathan Hull and David Thompson all spoke strongly against the initiative.

Stepping Stones bookstore owner Mindy Van Dyke had previously presented a letter in opposition to Spohnheimer.

The letter said the levy’s extra cost would be an added financial burden to her business, and urged the CBD to conduct more effective fundraising.

Thompson and Hull were extremely critical of CBD’s use of listing on a petition presented to council not-for-profit entities and organizations, such as churches and Mid-Iowa Community Action, to the group of 63 businesses, entities and organizations supporting SSMID.

They claimed not-for-profits were supportive because they would not be levied due to their tax-free status.

Others said they did not want SSMID funds used for CBD administration expenses.

The 63 was five above the minimum required for council consideration.

Marshalltown Central Business District chief SSMID volunteer Nathan McCormick spoke strongly in favor of SSMID.

He and others have argued the potential $60,000-$80,000 generated from SSMID was critical for CDB to meet expectations and enhance downtown.

They have distributed promotional material saying an annual allotment from the city, fundraising, and other revenue is not enough.

P&Z voted 5-0, with two commissioners absent, to recommend approval of establishing a SSMID.

“Our function is narrow in scope,” said Chairman Jon Boston. “We are to determine if the proposed establishment of a SSMID is in accordance with other plans promoting growth and economic development. We are not here to judge the merits of this particular SSMID.”

His comment was echoed by others.

Reference was made Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Davenport and Fort Dodge, as Iowa communities who had established SSMID and have seen positive results.

Aug. 28 City Council Meeting

Numerous businesses supporting SSMID were in force, outnumbering those against, at the Aug. 28 city council meeting. They were reinforced by representatives of several community development groups ranging from the Marshall County Arts & Cultural Alliance to the Marshall County Community Foundation to Vision Marshalltown.

Councilors voted 5-1, with one abstention, to move the establishment of a SSMID to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review. Voting yes were Third Ward Councilor Mike Gowdy, Second Ward’s Joel Greer, Fourth Ward’s Al Hoop, and At-Large Councilors Bill Martin and Bethany Wirin. At-Large Leon Lamer voted no. First Ward’s Dan Kester abstained.

McCormick said a lot of time and effort had been spent by volunteers educating property owners.

Main Street business owners Vic Hellberg of Hellberg’s Jewelers and Barb Hagstrand, owner of the Kibbey Building, have told the Times-Republican they support SSMID.

Earlier in the year, CBD Executive Director Jenny Etter had told the council during one her quarterly council reports CBD was working to establish a SSMID.

However, Lamer told Etter earlier then he would vote “no” unless CBD could demonstrate 70 percent support from impacted property owners.

He said the council previously declined a downtown SSMID because the council was convinced there was a lack of support.

He reiterated that on Aug. 28.

“I made it clear nine months ago when this was first proposed, and I want to be clear again tonight,” Lamer said.

Civil Debate

Civility has ruled among opponents and proponents at public meetings.

At one point during the P&Z meeting, McCormick and Thompson were debating SSMID merits while standing side-by-side at the lectern.

Both said regardless of the final outcome, they would remain friends.

McCormick said CBD was working to improve downtown.

Those opposing SSMID said they too, wanted to see a more vibrant downtown.

At the Aug. 28 council meeting, Mayor JIm Lowrance said SSMID discussion was the first of “many steps in the process.” The review of Spohnheimer’s report is one, as will the vote to set Oct. 9 as decision-day to approve or decline SSMID.

For more information on CBD or SSMID, call 641-844-2001, or visit marshalltownmainstreet.org.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com