Like many of our local voters, I’m retired. And like many local voters, my largest asset is my house. My wife and I have worked hard for years, and we look forward to enjoying our retirement with the great friends we’ve made in Mason City.
We don’t want our property taxes to increase, and someday, we’ll need to sell our home.
But as I look around, I get concerned. Our local businesses need workers to replace employees who are approaching retirement age. Local statistics show that 40.3 percent of our local workforce is age 55-64…which translates to a huge need for workforce. As you drive around town, have you noticed how many firms are displaying "Help Wanted" signs? National statistics show that younger workers place a high value on quality of life. They decide where they want to live before deciding where they want to work.
We need to invest in community amenities or we will continue to lose population and drive young workers away. I want North Iowa to be a vibrant area where young people want to raise their families, send their children to our local schools, buy homes, and, yes, pay taxes.
Another important aspect of the proposed downtown plan is its impact on our local tax base.
The new hotel will be built in the city-owned parking lot to the south of Younkers — which currently generates no property tax revenue. The hotel, which represents millions of dollars in private investment, will establish new property tax base that will benefit our citizens. In addition, the hotel will generate new lodging and sales tax revenue. Similarly, the improvements to Southbridge (most notably a multi-purpose arena) will increase the property valuation of the mall and result in increased sales tax revenue.
In my opinion, the far greater risk is doing nothing. The cost of city services will continue to increase. If we don’t reverse our shrinking population trend, the city council will have no choice except to raise our taxes. Doing nothing takes away potential new business from locally owned businesses that have an investment in our community. It takes away increased business for restaurants, other hotels, retail and service businesses, gas stations, rental car companies, car dealerships, taxi services, our airport and almost any other business in our city and region.
The adage “A rising tide raises all ships” is a perfect analogy for a positive vote on this issue.
The state funding, made possible through a program called the Iowa Reinvestment Act, can only be used for “reinvestments” in tax-generating properties in the 25-acre area in Mason City’s downtown. Mason City’s project won this nearly $10 million award in a highly-competitive application process that pitted our vision for reinvestment against plans from communities across the state. The Iowa Economic Development Authority board members gave our plan high marks.
I don’t know about you, but when people from outside our area think we’re on the right track, it gives me great confidence. After all, the whole point of this program is to assist Iowa communities in helping themselves.
As a retired U.S. Army soldier, I can tell you that protecting our way of life is important to me. And sometimes we have to take risks to keep the things we hold dear. The time to take action is NOW. Please join me in voting YES (and YES) on the ballot questions for the River City Renaissance project.
Maj. Gen. Gary Wattnum is retired from the U.S. Army and lives in Mason City.