Recently, economic development has become the primary focus of our City Council, as well as a subject of debate amongst our citizenry. What with the Prestage debate, and more recently the hotel deal, the question of how should we develop has become increasingly important.
What development we have seen, has been of the conventional sort; the hotel project, new franchise businesses, and the conversion of the vacant Kmart building into Harbor Freight and Ashley Furniture. While it’s good to see this sort of economic development, we must ask: in what way do we as citizens benefit?
We know lending agencies, contractors, and real estate agents all benefit from new franchise businesses and construction projects, but what about the working families of our town? Can we definitely say that the lives of Mason Cityans will be made better by new hotels and shopping centers? Or perhaps, in focusing too much on economic growth, our officials are failing to consider projects which could significantly better the lives of their constituents.
In the failed Prestage deal, the city government was prepared to invest large sums of money into infrastructure, as well as tax credits and abatements. In the downtown development deal, the city council has made similar offers. While it’s good to see new business development, the question on many of our minds is: are these sound investments in the future of our city? Or are we putting our financial solvency and economic future on the line, for little return?
I believe the Council, as well as those who spearhead projects of this nature, genuinely have the welfare of our city in mind, however, these deals fall short of making real progress for the city. It seems that those who hold office in our city are unable to think outside the box. Being stuck in the rut of conventional thinking, they are unwilling, or unable, to look beyond the presumptive role of local government. What are we missing out on due to a lack of imagination?
The Council, as well as the people of Mason City, would do well to consider a city wide renewable energy project. Climate change and environmental degradation are realities which will take bold leadership and alternative thinking to surmount. I believe firmly that we as a community can lead the charge in this fight. Another reality is the monopoly companies such as Alliant hold over energy production and distribution. As Americans, we should scoff at the notion that a private entity has any right to control something so essential to modern life. Considering these points, the City Council should take steps to make Mason City energy independent.
The Council has shown a willingness to invest large sums of money into infrastructure which benefits private industry, as well as a willingness to waive taxes as an incentive to encourage development. If our Council is willing to make such investments for business, shouldn’t it be willing to make them for the individual families of Mason City? Such a project may seem daunting, but if the Council were willing to make the investment, we as a community could pull it off.
The Council should start by offering a five- to 10-year property tax abatement for any family willing to build solar panels on their home. It could encourage renewables further by working with lending agencies to subsidize loans used in the building of solar panels. With state assistance, the city could go even further; financing in full, the development of a renewable energy grid.
In doing so, our town would not only benefit its citizenry by eradicating energy bills and ensuring each families energy independence, it would send a strong message to the youth, which the Council so desperately hopes to attract. A renewable energy initiative will not only create a better city, but will encourage a generation of environmentally conscious youths, to call Mason City home.