The La Porte City City Council will soon begin the work of establishing a budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which covers the period of time from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. For city residents and taxpayers, it’s a process that can be summarized with two broad questions: Can the necessary revenue be found to fund the current level of services the City provides without raising property taxes? If not, will some services be cut or will property taxes be raised to make up the difference?

Since property taxes are one of the primary funding mechanisms used to finance City operations, it stands to reason that the best way to increase City revenue is to grow its tax base. This can be accomplished in two fundamental ways: 1) New property construction, and 2) Increase the value of existing property.
In an effort to seek proactive and creative solutions to growing the City’s tax base, City leaders are working to develop programs designed to spur community growth. Last month, a Housing Needs Assessment Committee, consisting of community members representing the City Council, City staff, local realtors, financial institutions and schools, met for the first time. Utilizing the expertise provided by the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments (INRCOG), the committee has begun the work of assessing the quantity and quality of housing available in La Porte City.

In addition to reviewing census data and completing an informal housing needs questionnaire, the Housing Needs Assessment Committee authorized a recent “windshield tour” of La Porte City, which was completed by INRCOG. The tour classified each of the city’s 1,094 homes into one of five condition categories: excellent, good, fair, poor or dilapidated. Designed to serve only as a snapshot representation of the community, visual assessments were conducted from the street.

When the data from the survey is color coded and imposed on a city map, the resulting illustration provides an overview of La Porte City’s housing conditions.
The completion of a housing needs assessment is the first step toward creating an Urban Revitalization Plan, which would allow the City to offer enhanced tax abatements for new home construction, as well as substantial improvements made to existing homes. The development of an Urban Revitalization Plan is a requirement set forth by the Iowa Legislature, and must be completed before such tax abatements can be offered.

The Housing Needs Assessment and development of an Urban Revitalization Plan follow two recent projects that utilized a large infusion of grant money for community improvements. The Downtown Facade Program, completed in August, invested nearly a half million dollars to make significant improvements to participating buildings on Main Street. Another ongoing project involves the rehabilitation of Wolf Creek. Phase I of the project, which included clearing large sections of the creek bank and the installation of kayak landings, was completed earlier this year.

It is hoped that the work being done now to address future housing needs will ultimately pay dividends in the form of increased property values that will help grow the City’s tax base. It’s an effort that could also benefit school enrollment numbers. After all, when young families look at neighboring communities near the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metropolitan area, the right combination of housing opportunities and quality of life amenities could make all the difference in their decision to choose La Porte City as their new home.