Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Promise or Problem?


The Gazette

February 9, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

   The Newton Development Corporation gets As for creativity and boldness in developing a proposal to keep the community intact and growing in the face of what could be traumatic economic developments. Voters will decide March 28 whether the corporation gets an A or an F for the details of its initiative.
   Over the next six weeks, voters should ask lots of questions.

   The corporation’s proposal, The Newton Promise, would guarantee every student who attends Newton Senior High School for four years and graduates up to a full-ride scholarship to one of Iowa’s public colleges, including community colleges, or the equivalent for tuition at a private college in the state. The group told the City Council last week the principal goal is twofold: attract and retain a high-quality work force and promote economic development.

   The proposal is in part a response to the fear that Newton will lose the Maytag headquarters and its 2,300 jobs when the appliance maker is taken over by Whirlpool.

   The corporation also is thinking about the fact that local economic and population growths have been stagnant for years. It hopes The Newton Promise will attract individuals and businesses — boosting construction, creating jobs and building the tax base.

   The program is based on using tax dollars to get started. The corporation proposes that the city buy a $5 million bond to establish The Newton Promise, to be repaid with local-option sales tax dollars. A referendum on the tax will be held March 28, with 35 percent of sales tax revenue going to property tax relief and 65 percent going to unspecified economic development, community betterment and any other legal use. The corporation proposes using 48 percent of the revenue to The Newton Promise.

   Other funding for the program would come from private gifts, state grants and, in about eight years, the hoped-for renewal of the school infrastructure local-option sales tax.

   Kim Didier, executive director of the corporation, acknowledges voters need more information about the proposal. Questions voters should ask:

   What is the community’s obligation to provide a college education to its youth?

   What happens as tuition rates keep going up? The estimated revenue from the sales tax is $1.1 million. That will only go so far for two or four years’ worth of tuition for the 220 or so students that graduate from Newton Senior High School each year.

   Can enough sales tax dollars be collected in this community of about 15,000 to pay off a $5 million bond, or is the development group being unrealistic in its projections?

   Finally, what happens if the initiative is approved and the population grows too fast as people come to the community so their children can benefit? Will Newton be able to support new infrastructure needs for both town and school district?