Focus on the City’s Core: it is vital that we protect and preserve the historic segments of our community.
• Develop diverse housing options. During the recent workshops for the Cedar Falls Resiliency Plan, resident after resident commented on the limited availability of housing throughout Cedar Falls. As our community continues to grow, we must ensure a wide variety of housing types are readily available to meet a changing consumer demand. A complete review of the Cedar Falls zoning code is underway, this review should focus on eliminating barriers to affordable housing, identifying areas of our community that would benefit from new residents, and developing a ten year partnership strategy between the City, the County, and private developers.
• Increase funding for the rental conversion program. Created during my time as a Council member, this program provides a forgivable loan to individuals and families that purchase an existing rental property for conversion back into a single family home. This program has successfully restored several properties, and helped bring new families to Cedar Falls. I propose increasing the maximum loan amount from $10,000 to $25,000, and increasing the annual funding allocation for an additional ten applicants per year. The increased valuation of these properties as they steadily improve will help to defray the cost of the program over the next ten years.
• Reform public development incentives. The current incentive model used by the City is the same model used by hundreds of cities for the past fifty years. It provides tax abatement upon the final construction of certain types of businesses. As we face ever-increasing competition for cities throughout the Midwest, we need a new model to develop our future economy. We can learn from the successes of other communities, borrowing the best of their programs to maximize our limited resources, attract a diverse array of new business types to Cedar Falls, and help our current businesses grow and thrive.
Build New Partnerships: our City thrives when we all work together towards common goals.
• Utilizing our relationship with UNI, the City can readily access a variety of research in the fields of education, finance, manufacturing, and life sciences. UNI can also provide guidance for improvements to City policies and programs, assistance in establishing new businesses, and promoting new economic growth within Cedar Falls. This partnership should also include Hawkeye Community College as an essential element in our long term strategy to retain students within the Cedar Valley.
• Expand the partnership between the City and public schools. Continually recognized as one of the best school districts in Iowa, Cedar Falls Schools provides high quality education to over 5,000 students, representing the future of Cedar Falls. The City must be an active partner with the District, with the Mayor actively engaging with the Superintendent and the Board of Education. Focuses of this partnership should include expanding the CAPS program, integrating community facilities, and promoting equality in our schools.
• Local businesses represent the backbone of our Cedar Valley economy. The Mayor serves as a conduit for local businesses to communicate ideas and to bring issues to the City. As the City works to support the future economic success of Cedar Falls, local businesses will be essential in attracting new people to our workforce and diversifying our economy. The Mayor should create a new business roundtable comprised of representatives from businesses of all sizes in Cedar Falls. The focus of this group should be to provide recommendations to the Mayor and City staff for new policies or changes to existing policies that will support our current and future local businesses.
Create a Community Support Structure
• Create a healthier community, with a focus on mental health. The City of Cedar Falls owns the land and building currently occupied by MercyOne Cedar Falls Hospital (formerly Sartori Memorial Hospital). For the past several years, the City engaged in talks with MercyOne about the need for a new hospital in Cedar Falls. The current facility is in need of significant updates and safety improvements, and does not have the space for expanding areas of care. The City needs to actively pursue a partnership with a regional medical organization to ensure high quality medical care remains available to Cedar Falls residents. Our community has a severe shortage of vital primary care doctors, as well as mental health providers, nursing staff, and key specialists including; gastroenterologist, neurologists, nephrologists, and cardiologists. Ensuring high quality healthcare remains available and accessible is essential for the long-term success of our community. The City maintains a healthcare trust fund created using the proceeds of leasing the current hospital. The investment income from this trust fund currently funds one-time equipment and program expenditures within the hospital. These funds should be repurposed to facilitate a partnership with a healthcare entity for the creation of a new hospital. The City must also work with this partner to address the healthcare staff shortage through innovative programs including housing assistance, student loan reimbursement, and childcare assistance.
• Social workers in public safety. Our dedicated local public safety staff face ongoing challenges in providing safety and security for all residents. We must ensure that they have every tool available to address these challenges. With the ongoing mental health crisis facing the Cedar Valley, it is critical that the City work to incorporate additional training for all staff. In addition, the City should work to hire one licensed social worker for each of the three daily shifts. This staff member will be able to provide referrals to outside agencies, assist with conflict resolution, and victim assistance.
• Expanded community garden and focus on food security. Food insecurity remains throughout the Cedar Valley, negatively impacting education, economic productivity, and the long-term health of our residents. The City must work with local and regional partners to immediately address both child and adult food insecurity. Working with the Cedar Falls School District, UNI, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, and other private partners, the City can facilitate the creation of new community gardens, expand summer-time meal programs, and coordinate the creation of a new community kitchen to provide meals to those in need.
An Economic Recovery for Everyone: an equitable place to live, work, and grow together
• Prioritize the revitalization of key economic corridors. Over the past twenty years, the Cedar Falls Southern Industrial Park grew to become one of our largest economic engines. Now we need to refocus on expanding this economic success to College Hill, North Cedar, University Ave., State Street, 1st Street, and other key areas of town. The Mayor must help lead this revitalization by creating a cohesive vision, working with private industry, and advocating for successful models used in other communities.
• Use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding. Annually the City receives funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on a formula basis to states, cities, and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities. In recent years, HUD placed additional restrictions on the use of these funds by local governments. The Mayor should partner with other Iowa mayors to actively engage the HUD Secretary, asking to expand the permitted use of these funds. Specific requests should include local projects, improvements to transportation networks, and efforts to provide childcare and early childhood education to residents.
• Support an active Human Rights Commission. A successful local economy depends on the inclusion of all of our residents. The City’s Human Rights Commission is an essential resource to educate employees and employers, and to help resolve issues of discrimination. The Mayor must actively support this group by seeking out the best candidates for the commission and providing all necessary support for their mission. This same commitment must carry through to all of the City’s boards and commissions, actively seeking the best and most diverse set of candidates to achieve the City’s long-term objectives.
Attract and Retain Talent: the future of Cedar Falls depends on our ability to build the next generation of our workforce.
• Creation of a student loan forgiveness program. Modeled after a program in Rhode Island, the City should create a student loan forgiveness program designed to incentivize residency for UNI and Hawkeye graduates. The program allocates funding each year to provide direct loan forgiveness to individuals agreeing to live in Cedar Falls for a period of five or ten years. The program functions as a forgivable loan in that, should the resident leave the community before the approve time period, they will be required to repay the total amount of forgiveness received. This program will help to retain recent graduates within our community, increasing our available workforce and providing a boost to the housing industry.
• Expand internship opportunities. Internships are a valuable resource to gain experience and job training during continuing education. Cedar Falls city government contains a variety of business lines in areas including engineering, tourism, communications, urban planning, public policy, criminal justice, and construction. Working in conjunction with private and non-profit partners, the City can work to expand internship opportunities. This will enhance the City’s ability to retain students that may otherwise move to other communities, building our future workforce.
• Purpose driven marketing. Great things happen in Cedar Falls every day! Often times we forget to take a moment to acknowledge all of the great work done in the public and private sectors within our community. Working with the City’s communications team and Grow Cedar Valley, the Mayor can help to develop an external communication strategy to share positive developments with area residents and prospective residents throughout the Midwest.
Invest for the Future
• Creation of a public/private venture fund. Diversifying the types of businesses found in Cedar Falls is essential to the future health of our economy. Facing increasing competition, and the portability of many different types of businesses, it is critical that Cedar Falls creates the highest competitive advantage possible. One potential resource is the creation of a public/private venture fund, designed to facilitate the creation of new small businesses throughout our community. Public and private dollar will be combined into an investment pool, managed by a board of Cedar Falls residents with applicable experience. Funds will be deployed to support the creation and growth of new businesses within Cedar Falls. Returns generated from successful investments will be returned to the fund to help expand the potential impact. A commitment from the City will help to leverage contributions from private entities and individuals within the Cedar Valley. Specific focus should be placed on businesses founded by young, female, and BIPOC owners to help promote diverse ownership and income equality within Cedar Falls.
• A new model for public transportation. The Cedar Valley relies exclusively on Metropolitan Transit (MET) to provide public transportation in our community, administered through a fleet of large diesel buses. The MET team faces the growing challenges of reduced funding, a growing geographic area requiring coverage, and changing consumer behavior. We need to retool our partnership with MET, bringing in our neighboring communities to create a workable solution. Public transportation is essential to providing access to area businesses, connecting residents with their jobs, and reducing our impact on traffic congestion and air pollution. We need a new working group, built with representation from all stakeholders, focused on a holistic solution to the transportation needs of the Cedar Valley. This group will provide a recommendation to Cedar Falls and our neighboring communities on the most efficient and cost effective ways to provide vehicle, air, and bicycle transportation to everyone who needs it.
• Promoting energy efficiency. As a City, Cedar Falls has a responsibility to current and future residents to mitigate the impacts of climate change and increase energy efficiency wherever possible. The City is in the process of developing a resiliency plan, which should be fully implemented as quickly as possible. I propose looking for ways to expand upon this work, including specific goals and targets for community energy use and generation. We are very fortunate to have a municipal utility within Cedar Falls, which provides us with many opportunities to change our energy strategy. The City should consider strategies similar to the City of Dubuque in adopting a dedicated staff member to focus on energy efficiency. I would also recommend a thorough review of recent report issued by Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand’s office relating to the economic benefits of clean energy products.
A 24/7 Mayor: Cedar Falls needs a full-time, elected and accountable leader to move our community forward.
• Consistent and productive engagement with the Council. As with our state and federal government, effective policy depends on engagement between the executive and legislative branches. The Mayor should regularly engage with Council, helping to address concerns and advocate for policy decisions that benefit the community. The role of Mayor is more than sending a monthly report; it is about building relationships and fostering common ground, even when we do not always agree.
• Relationship with City staff. The Mayor serves as the chief executive officer of the City. As with the CEO of any organization, the role of Mayor is multi-faceted and requires flexibility and dedication. The Mayor is responsible for providing a safe work environment for employees, ensuring the most efficient delivery of services, and correcting missteps when needed. The Mayor serves both the residents as the “customers” and City staff as the “employees” and must be accountable to both groups. This requires constant engagement, coaching, and open communication between all parties.
• Engagement with Cedar Falls. The Mayor serves as the communication conduit for residents, helping to answer questions and address concerns. The Mayor should routinely meet with neighborhood associations, community groups, students, and civic organizations to share information and answer questions. The Mayor should also act as the ambassador for our community, working with Grow Cedar Valley and other partners to share what makes Cedar Falls the best place to call home.
An Accessible and Open City Hall: City facilities, staff, and meeting must be readily accessible to residents. Accessibility means different things to different people, and the City must strive to learn and grow with our community.
• The pandemic helped us understand the importance of electronic mediums and virtual engagement. The City must fully embrace these lessons as we work towards a community-wide recovery. All City meetings should include an option for virtual attendance, including Council meetings, committee meetings, and boards/commissions. The City’s website must be updated to ensure the highest level of accessibility for all residents. All possible City services should be included on the website and mobile app; including permits, large-item refuse pick-up requests, and reporting service needs (damaged signs, tree trimming, etc.).
• Discussions are underway for a remodel of City Hall. This is an opportunity to restructure the seat of City government to meet the current and future needs of the community. A local architect can assist with engaging Cedar Falls residents on what they would like their City Hall to look like. How can we make the space more inviting and efficient for visitors and staff? This could include increase public space, improving audio/visual capabilities in the Council chamber, and reducing the accessibility challenges for older areas of the building.
• Regular updates on the condition of the City. The Mayor should provide a regularly scheduled update to our community, highlighting the progress we are making and encouraging residents to become involved. This update should be recorded, televised, and include a question and answer session from residents.
Solving for Real Solutions: our City faces a combination of difficult challenges and amazing opportunities. We have to decide what direction we want to go as a community.
• Under Mayor Crews, Cedar Falls developed five-year vision plans, designed to bring stakeholders together and create a list of “stretch goals” to push our community forward. I propose that we redeploy this process, with a few changes. Create a new Vision Cedar Falls committee, comprised of fifteen to twenty residents from all walks of life. This group will then create a list of two to three specific, actionable projects that will push the City forward. The committee will present their recommendations to the Mayor and Council with requests for the resources they need to execute these projects. Not every project may turn out exactly as envisioned; the overarching purpose is that we are working together with a specific goal of making Cedar Falls the best city it can be.
• How can I help? As Mayor, my job is to serve the residents, the staff, and the community as a whole. With each decision, new policy, or initiative, my overriding question will be “how will this make it better”? Whether that’s better for our neighbors, our businesses, or our visitors, everything we do as a City must be in service to making a positive difference.
• The City’s annual budget is one of the most important policy items each year. The budget determines that City taxes our residents will pay, what projects will receive funding, and what the City’s priorities will be for the next fiscal year. The budget process should include community outreach by the Mayor, and active participation in its preparation. The budget should also be digestible by residents, including the real world impacts they should expect to see.
Cedar Falls is a wonderful place to call home; built by generations of leaders and volunteers who worked together towards a common vision. Our community faces a crucial time, we must decide what we want our next vision of Cedar Falls to look like over the next twenty years. Its time for each of us reach out to one another and work together to build a bright future for the place we call home.
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“I’ve worked with Tom on a number of community initiatives over the past few years. His willingness to listen to ideas, objectively consider all angles, and make an informed decision is why I’m supporting him. Not only that, but Tom pitches in and helps execute the initiative.”
– Carol Lilly