Iowa City Mayor Throgmorton checks in on the ‘State of the City’

Iowa City Major Jim Throgmorton outlined plans to “foster a more inclusive, just and sustainable city” in the annual State of the City speech delivered during Tuesday’s Iowa City Council meeting.

The speech addressed the progress Iowa City made and setbacks experienced in 2016 — quoting Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Throgmorton outlined last year’s successes — including a low unemployment rate of 2.4 percent, a decreased property tax levy for the fifth straight year and a construction boom — but suggested that future progress could be challenged by political changes at the state and national level.

Photo by Adam Burke

Best of times

Many of the accomplishments fell under the seven priority categories listed in the city’s 2016-2017 Strategic Plan, which was approved in February of last year.

Here’s Iowa City fared in those categories:

Promote a strong and resilient local economy

The local economy saw a substantial increase in construction, with 794 building permits issued worth more than $388 million. This was an increase from the 645 permits valued at $138 million in 2015.

Throgmorton also commended efforts to bring “local fresh foods to a new audience,” highlighting work by the city to provide more community garden space and supplement the Farmer’s Market “Double Up Food Bucks” program, part of a statewide initiative that matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) money with additional funds to spend on local produce. Funding for the program in Iowa City comes from money designated by the Iowa City Council Sustainable/Locally Grown Agriculture initiative, with support from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the Healthiest State Initiative.

Encourage a vibrant and walkable urban core

Iowa City’s quest for increased bike-friendly status has also moved along, Throgmorton said. The city, now ranked at the silver level by the League of American Bicyclists, aspires towards gold and, ultimately, platinum, with the goal of achieving gold status by the end of this year.

Throgmorton cited efforts to update the city’s Bicycle Master Plan and infrastructure improvements on 1st Avenue and South Sycamore as evidence of the city’s work to move forward. He also pointed to events such as the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup race, which was held in September and will return this year.

Foster healthy neighborhoods throughout the city

The city has been working to improve local parks, Throgmorton said, citing efforts such as installing new playgrounds, improving accessibility for individuals with disabilities and conducting an inventory of trees to help respond to Emerald Ash Borer infestations.

Maintain a solid financial foundation

Throgmorton said that the city is secure enough financially that the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget would reduce the property tax level for the sixth straight year. Under the current proposal, the tax would go down by 25 cents.

Enhance community engagement and intergovernmental relations

In an effort to improve the city’s connection with “diverse parts of the Iowa City community,” city councilors conducted five listening posts, and Throgmorton took five Mayor’s Walks through city neighborhoods, he said. City staff also worked to increase public outreach through televised council work sessions on Cable Cannel 4.

Promote environmental sustainability

Throgmorton praised efforts by the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department, which conserved over 1.5 million gallons of water last year, exceeding a million gallon goal.

Further climate change-related efforts are also in the works. The city recently created a Climate Action Plan Steering Committee and is “on the verge” of hiring a consultant to help the city achieve carbon emissions goals, including reducing carbon emissions 26 percent by 2026 and 80 percent by 2050, he said.

Advance social justice and racial equity

The council approved an Affordable Housing Action Plan that aims to increase the overall affordability and availability of city housing for low-to-moderate income households, as well as improve the socio-economic balance in the Iowa City school district. Throgmorton cited the city’s Inclusionary Housing ordinance for the Riverfront Crossings District and an ordinance help establish a Housing First facility for chronically homeless individuals, as significant steps forward in diversifying affordable housing in the city.

Worst of times

However Throgmorton noted that the “political context of our work will be quite different in 2017.” He cited the shift at both the state and national level to a Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature, Governor’s Office, U.S. Congress and the Presidency. That change represented a shift in priorities that he said differed from those of the council.

“Consequently, we must adjust to the new realities without losing our moral compass,” he said.

Some of those new realities include a series of executive orders and actions at the federal level to increase immigration enforcement, actions that Throgmorton said “undermine the values that have made Iowa City such a great place to live: openness, diversity, inclusivity and creativity.”

He added that the council stands in solidarity with the immigrants, refugees, non-Christians and others who are at risk.

Throgmorton also criticized the actions of the Iowa legislators in passing a collective bargaining bill that has been signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad, which he said “tramples upon the long-established rights of public employees to have a say in their working conditions.”

In closing, he called on Iowa Citians to work with the city council to protect vulnerable members of the community

“Acting together, we can — and will — ensure that this city we love continues to thrive long into the future,” he said.

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