The answers below originally appeared in The Gazette on October 21, 2017. They were submitted by Meghann Foster in response to the newspaper's candidate questionnaire.
Name: Meghann Foster
Address: 2172 N. Oak Ct., Coralville
Seat seeking: At Large
Occupation: Adjunct Lecturer, University of Iowa; Digital Strategist, Brand Driven Digital
Educational background: B.A. University of Iowa; M.A. Washington State University
Why are you running for council?
Foster: I am running for the City Council because I love Coralville. I’ve lived in Coralville for 16 years and am grateful to be raising my five children in such a vibrant and caring place. When my husband and I first moved to Coralville, we were able to grow our family and put down roots in this community. I want to make sure that other families are able to come to Coralville and grow and thrive the way my family has been able to. If elected, I want to build on our community’s strong foundation and continue to make Coralville a warm and welcoming community for all who live here.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Foster: Coralville is growing by leaps and bounds. I want to make sure that our growth is inclusive and that, as we grow, we’re not leaving any citizens behind. I believe that community development and economic development go hand-in-hand. I’ll focus on this in the following ways:
Sustainable Economic Development: Economic development involves more than just creating and attracting revenue for an area. It’s a complex ecosystem that encompasses many things. As such, we need to make sure that our economic development plans benefit the entire community. Jobs that pay a living wage, affordable housing, and community development impact are all things that need to be considered. My focus will be on attracting growing industries that bring high-paying jobs to the area. I also want to make sure that the businesses we attract treat their employees equitably as well. These are the foundational pieces of a strong economy, which in turn leads to a strong community.
Innovative Housing Solutions: Safe and stable housing is the bedrock of a healthy community. Many families in Johnson County are housing-cost burdened and Coralville is no exception. Housing is a difficult issue that requires out-of-the-box thinking. I want to find citizen-driven, creative solutions for addressing this issue. Some ideas include partnering with local organizations to renovate and rehabilitate at-risk units, creating a fund to supplement any grant dollars that may be available, and finding ways to stabilize our older neighborhoods without gentrifying them.
Responsible Financial Stewardship: There’s no doubt that Coralville has been assertive in their economic development practices. The thriving growth and community amenities we enjoy are the result of many of the investments we’ve made in our community. As we see the results of decades of planning as these projects come to fruition, it’s clear that Coralville has made smart investments. However, as we move forward, we need to pursue other innovative and organic means of generating growth.
We also need to find opportunities to pay down our debt quickly. The city has taken several steps in the right direction. I am not in favor of adding new TIF projects until current debt is paid down. If we consider TIF and other similar tools in the future, the projects should be thoroughly vetted for meaningful economic impact at the local level. It’s not in the best interest of our community to use incentives if there’s no clear benefit to the community. Examples of this impact include projects that would generate high-paying jobs and using local vendors and contractors on projects.
Next summer, Coralville’s now 20-year-old tax increment finance district for Coral Ridge Mall expires, opening up millions in additional property tax revenue annually. For Coralville, that means about $2 million added each year to the general fund. How would you like to see that money used?
Foster: Although there are several projects and/or programs I would like to develop I believe that before we can take on any additional projects and/or programming, we need to be responsible about making sure our city is on solid financial footing. Especially given the state’s budget situation. That’s why I believe that additional dollars in the general fund should be used to pay down existing debt, and/or replace lost backfill funds if the state eliminates the appropriation.
The Iowa River Landing continues to grow in Coralville, with housing, storefronts and a soon-to-begin arena project all taking place. However, some have questioned if the area should be offering more affordable housing opportunities. Is this something lacking — or are there other elements missing — in the IRL area? What do you want to see added as development continues?
Foster: With all of the growth and development in the Iowa River Landing, it may be hard to remember what the area used to be like. I have lived in the community long enough to remember the Iowa River Landing area before it was developed. It wasn’t just a blighted industrial area, it was also an unsafe place for our citizens with lead in the ground and other environmental hazards that needed to be addressed. The City of Coralville has done great things in the IRL and I am excited for what’s on the horizon.
While I do agree that more affordable units would be beneficial in the IRL, we have taken some steps in the right direction by utilizing workforce housing credits for portions of the development and having higher-density residential projects on the horizon. In addition, I would like to make sure that the entire community can enjoy the amenities of the Iowa River Landing. Again, we’ve taken some steps in the right direction here, by partnering with businesses and organizations to offer community events (such as the free horse-drawn carriage rides, movies at Backpocket Brewing, and Winterfest). I would like to see opportunities like this expanded.
I also hope that the upcoming Iowa Arena can be utilized for recreation center programming and community events so that as many citizens as possible can access services and enjoy the area.
Coralville — and cities across Iowa — could face revenue losses as the state revenues remain tight. The state is threatening to do away with the backfill funds it provides to communities in an effort to balance its budget. How would you balance the city’s budget if the city were to lose funds? What funding priorities do you have?
Foster: First and foremost, I hope that the lawmakers in Des Moines do the right thing and continue the appropriation as they had promised to. Discontinuing the backfill could have devastating repercussions not just for Coralville, but for municipalities throughout Iowa. My hope is that if we don’t use the additional revenue to the general fund for debt repayment, we could use those dollars to make up for backfill losses.
From our city services to our parks and trails, Coralville offers an exceptional quality of life. Moving forward, I believe our citizens deserve the best services and staffing we can provide. My top funding priorities will include maintaining these areas at current levels and expanding as funding allows.
Where do you see growth occurring in the city in coming years? What should the city do to manage it?
Foster: We have a lot of new developments on the horizon, such as the Bridgewater subdivision, Scanlon, continued work in the Iowa River Landing, and the Iowa Arena. I want to make sure we are monitoring these projects appropriately to ensure their success, and to make sure they are developing according to our land-use goals and our general community plan.
In the years ahead, we need to manage both our current economic development regions such as the Coral Ridge Mall, the Iowa River Landing, and the arena and look ahead to more sustainable efforts in both community development and economic development in high-growth industry verticals and sustainable housing. Future growth depends on diversifying the employers we attract to the area, ensuring innovative and affordable housing options, and building on our comprehensive public transit system.
What other big issues would you like to see the council address in the next few years?
Foster: The rise in online shopping has caused retail trends to shift. As such, I want to find new and innovative ways to grow our local economy so that we can be sustainable if these shopping trends continue. With the addition of the Iowa Arena, Coralville has the opportunity to become even more of a regional destination for events and hospitality. I want to make sure we are doing what we can to make the arena successful and build on the potential of this new addition.
As we grow, we can’t price people out of our community. I’m in favor of the city overseeing innovative projects and facilitating partnerships with developers and other community partners and stakeholders. We have to marry the need for innovative housing solutions with the need to stabilize our older neighborhoods by reinvesting in them. I believe these historic parts of our community are worth protecting and would like to keep them from falling into blight. Safe and stable housing and neighborhoods are the bedrock of a healthy community and a key issue that we need to address with continued focus on public-private partnerships.
Again, community development and economic development go hand in hand. I want to work together to ensure that Coralville remains a great place for everyone who calls it home.