By PETER HUSSMANN
Downtown Newton commercial property owners will see an additional $1 per $1,000 taxable value on their tax bills beginning a year from now after the Newton City Council on Monday voted to re-establish a downtown improvement district to assist with curb appeal for the area.
The council voted 5-1 in favor of third consideration of the ordinance that re-establishes the Downtown Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) that imposes the additional tax that will raise approximately $13,000 a year and be used for such things as lighting, banners, benches and other efforts to improve the look of the downtown area.
Such a district had been in existence for the eight-block area surrounding the square for 20 years before it was allowed to expire in 2006. The new planned area encompasses that same area and expands it to include commercial properties north and south of First Avenue between West Fourth Street and East Fourth Street, a total of 121 properties. The plan calls for the district to sunset in five years.
Newton council member Dennis Julius was the sole hold-out on the council saying he did not believe that raising taxes on those businesses would benefit the area.
"You don't attract business to the downtown by saying you pay more property taxes," he said, noting such improvement efforts should be voluntarily done by the property owner. "Forcing people to pay taxes is not the way to go."
Downtown business owner and attorney Ken Smith agreed with Julius saying the past track record of the SSMID showed it was not so successful.
"We have not done well with this type of administration of taxes," he said. "We should not have to stand arguing against this tax. This tax is a bad tax for downtown. We can't afford the taxes."
Other council members agreed that they did not want to see higher property taxes for commercial property owners but said efforts to address that issue lies with the statehouse in Des Moines while the council was responsible for the betterment of the local community.
Joe Urias, one of the organizers of the effort to re-establish the district, agreed that taxes are a problem but said the effort was being undertaken as a way to bring the community together to improve the area.
"Newton needs to move forward," he said, noting the establishment of the district might be able to pave the way for the area to seek grant funding for additional projects. "We need to find a way to beautify the city," he said. "This is not the answer, but the beginning."
Council member Noreen Otto, who owns a small portion of an interest in the former bank building on the northwest corner of the square, noted the recent citizen survey that found a majority of the respondents indicated that improving the downtown business area is "very important" to growth issues facing the community.
Bruce Showalter, another of the organizers, said that just over 50 percent of the property owners in the district representing more than 50 percent of the overall value have signed on in support of the re-establishment of the district.