Category: Simply Put

Simply Put – February 8, 2017

By Mike Whittlesey
In the coming days, the City Council of La Porte City will put the finishing touches on a proposed budget for FY18, which covers the period of time from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. The timeline for completing next year’s budget includes a public hearing that must be conducted before the budget is formally adopted. By law, the City’s FY18 budget must be adopted by March 15.
The City receives revenue from more sources than the average citizen might think. The one that matters most to taxpayers, though, is the levy rate, the number that helps determine the amount of taxes each property owner will be assessed.
Much has been made of the fact that La Porte City’s property tax levy is the second highest rate among eight communities in Black Hawk County. For the current fiscal year, La Porte City’s levy rate of 14.99574 is surpassed only by Waterloo’s 17.60522. What do these numbers mean? In La Porte City, property owners pay just under $15 for every $1,000 of property they own. That figure is cut roughly in half when the state’s tax rollback percentage is factored in. So in 2017, the owner of a $100,000 home in La Porte City was assessed around $750 in taxes to support the services the City provides its residents.
If you only consider levy rate as the primary indicator of tax burden, some might say La Porte City’s number is high enough to send Chicken Little off in search of the King. Fortunately, the personal property tax sky is not falling in La Porte City, because levy rate alone does not tell the whole story. There is another number that is far more important, one that completes the personal property tax equation. That number is taxable valuation, which is the overall value of a property multiplied by the state rollback for that property class.
The City of Hudson, nearly identical in population to La Porte City, serves as an excellent example of the importance of property value. With a levy rate of 11.51359, nearly $3.50 less than La Porte City, it stands to reason that Hudson taxpayers pay considerably less in city taxes than their LPC counterparts, right?
Wrong. They will actually pay $195,000 more in total city taxes than property owners in La Porte City. How is this possible? The City of Hudson’s taxable valuation is nearly $98 million, considerably more than La Porte City’s $62 million. In the words of an eight year old: “They got more stuff.”
The same is true in Jesup, another comparably sized community in Black Hawk County. Despite a slightly lower tax rate, property owners there will pay $375,000 more in city taxes than their La Porte City neighbors. When measured on a per capita basis, that translates to an additional $148 for every man, woman and child living in the City of Jesup.
From the perspective of an individual taxpayer, a lower assessed property value is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, when the Tax Man cometh, lower values mean he will take lesseth of your paycheck. Lower assessed values, though, present a very real challenge for city government because they limit the number of dollars that can be generated by a taxing body. Growing communities like Hudson and Jesup have the luxury of setting a lower tax rate because they have significantly higher property values. Slower growing communities, like La Porte City, must operate more efficiently in order to keep property taxes from spiraling up and out of control.
Where glass half empty folks see La Porte City’s taxes as too high (one of the highest levy rates in the county), glass half full people admire the excellent work done by elected officials and city employees to make services such as 24/7 police protection, a top-notch fire rescue and ambulance crew, along with a host of recreational opportunities for young and old alike, available at a per-capita cost that ranks fourth lowest in the county despite ranking next to last in per-capita property value.
Each year, the City Council faces the challenge of providing and maintaining services while trying to hold the line on property taxes. It’s a process that usually results in a few proverbial acorns falling from the sky. The trick is to make sure the sky doesn’t fall with them.

Simply Put – January 18, 2017

By Mike Whittlesey
When it comes to elections involving city government and the local school district, recent history has shown that La Porte City, like many small communities throughout the state, has had a limited number of candidates from which to choose. In the 2015 school board election, four open seats on the seven member Union Community School District Board of Directors were filled. Of those, voters had just five candidates to consider, leaving three of the four races uncontested. That same year saw just three candidates run for election on the La Porte City City Council. With three seats available, voters were again left without a choice. Each candidate ran unopposed.
Last week, announcement was made that a special election will be held in La Porte City on February 7. The election will give voters the opportunity to select the person who will complete the remainder of David Williams’ term on the City Council, which expires on December 31, 2020. You may recall that Williams resigned his seat last month prior to his move out of state.
In situations like this one, the Code of Iowa gives local government a couple of options to fill a vacant seat. The four remaining members of the LPC City Council could have filled the vacancy by way of temporary appointment, or called for a special election to let the voters make the final decision. Regardless the action taken by the Council, the matter would have eventually come before the voters anyway, as state law dictates that temporary appointments are only valid only until the next regularly scheduled municipal election, November 2017 in La Porte City’s case. Should voters not wish to wait until the next election rolls around, the law allows them to request a special election by way of petition.
At a special meeting on January 29, the LPC City Council met to address the issue of the vacant Council seat. Their task, however, was no simple one, as three candidates, Jasmine Gaston, Stuart Grote and Chad Van Dyke, submitted letters indicating their desire to serve. With one seat to fill, the Council had something not seen at the last municipal election- an abundance of candidates.
Had just a single candidate come forward, the decision to appoint would have been an easy one. Following a brief question and answer period where Council members had the opportunity to address each of the candidates, the decision to appoint Chad Van Dyke was made on a 3-1 vote. Five days later, voters filed a petition to call for a special election. As this edition of The Progress Review went to press, the names of the candidates running for election were not yet available.
The announcement of the upcoming election has portions of the community buzzing, and that’s a good thing. Nearly every decision made by a governing body opens the door for scrutiny and criticism. In this case, the City Council was faced with the unenviable task of choosing someone when, for the first time in years, there was more than one candidate to consider. Imagine how difficult it would be to choose one of your fellow citizens to represent you with little more than a letter of introduction and a 15 minute Q&A session. No small task, indeed.
Given the level of interest in serving on the City Council at this time, it is appropriate that the voters of La Porte City decide who should represent them.
The County Auditor’s estimate of $2,500 to conduct a special election is a small price to pay to ensure that every La Porte City voter has an opportunity to cast their vote. The candidates who have come forward and expressed a desire to serve the community should be commended for their efforts. They give the citizens of La Porte City a choice to make for who they believe will best represent their interests over the next three years.
In so many ways, the upcoming special election is a sign that our community is alive and well. Casting your vote on February 7 is the best way to prove it.

Simply Put – December 21, 2016

By Mike Whittlesey
  Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is a classic Christmas tune that has been a part of holiday music fare since Frank Sinatra recorded it in 1957 and released it on his album entitled “A Jolly Christmas.” No other holiday invokes feelings of nostalgia quite like Christmas. That’s why we’ve chosen to reprint the lyrics of this song on the front page of this holiday edition of The Progress Review, where they are joined by a number of traditional images that often come to mind when we think of this special time of year.
But the song we hear on the radio today, be it an instrumental version or one performed by the dozens of artists who have since covered it, is much different than the song originally written by Hugh Martin in 1944 for the motion picture “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Fans of the movie, or the musical based on the movie, recall the story is about a family living in St. Louis on the eve of the 1904 World’s Fair. Martin’s original lyrics had Judy Garland, who played Esther in the motion picture, singing the following verse:Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas
It may be your last.
Next year we may all be living in New York.
Pop that champagne cork.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Next year we may all be living in the past.Martin wrote these words to express the melancholy Judy Garland’s character felt about leaving St. Louis. He initially resisted the efforts of the film’s executives to change the lyrics, who felt the words were too depressing.
In his memoir, The Boy Next Door, Martin wrote that it was one of Garland’s co-stars, Tom Drake, that finally convinced him to alter the song.
“Hugh, this is potentially a very great and important song. I feel that in my guts. Now listen to me. Don’t be a stubborn idiot. Write a lyric for that beautiful melody that Judy will sing. You’ll thank me,” he wrote.
Garland’s version of the song, released as a single by Decca Records, was extremely popular with the troops serving in World War II.
Thirteen years later, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” which he changed to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
While some might argue that Sinatra’s version of the song is far from jolly, the change in wording did enhance the sentimental tone that has helped make the song a beloved holiday classic, one worthy of front page billing.
As you explore the pages of this special holiday edition, we hope you’ll enjoy the messages of peace and hope shared by area pastors and the thoughts of fifth grade students at La Porte City Elementary School, who write about “What Christmas Means to Me.” We very much appreciate the time members of the clergy, students and their teachers have invested on behalf of our readers.
We also thank the number of area businesses who express their holiday greetings on the following pages. It is their commitment to the community that helps make this special edition possible.
As we count down the days to Christmas, we invite you to logon to The Progress Review’s Facebook page or website ( to view a holiday music slideshow featuring images of area homes and businesses decorated for the season.
Lest we forget, please accept our best wishes for a happy holiday and have yourself a merry little Christmas!


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