Economic Growth Is Key to the Future of Oskaloosa

Oskaloosa City Manager Amal Eltahir

Oskaloosa City Manager Amal Eltahir

Editors Note: The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are not necessarily the views or opinions of Oskaloosa News.

by Oskaloosa City Manager Amal Eltahir

The City of Oskaloosa and Mahaska County are interdependent; the success of each entity is strongly tied to the success of the other. If Oskaloosa sees economic growth, the county benefits, and when the county sees economic growth, the city benefits. This interdependence is a reality for many cities in rural counties.

Many smaller cities and counties are in decline; especially those away from metro areas are losing people and dealing with harsh economic conditions. Calls for property tax reform further exacerbate local governments’ financial struggles. Our residents want improved conditions and excellent schools. They call for downtown revitalization, beautiful parks, and inviting gathering places. Therefore, the city of Oskaloosa is working on facilitating a vibrant, thriving, collaborative, safe, and healthy community where businesses flourish, and residents enjoy healthy living. In my introduction to our strategic plan, I noted that “success requires persistence, commitment, and collaboration. It will take all of us doing our part. Stakeholders must stick together in the face of adversity and make smart decisions.” In the face of growing demand for projects and infrastructure improvements, there is only one viable way forward; we must strategically grow our commercial tax base.

During our strategic planning session, opportunities were identified by community stakeholders, such as the expansion of the city, and the NW bypass/SE connector transportation projects. Some of the major threats to our success were identified as anti-growth attitudes and lack of understanding of the “bigger picture.” We are a city that tries to run “lean,” with fewer staff than many other cities our size. We try to be extremely careful with tax dollars, allocating them to projects that will provide the area with the most significant return on investment possible. As we grow the commercial tax base, the per capita cost of city services lessens. That keeps residents tax bills from growing even further, just to maintain our level of service. With inflation at higher-than-normal levels, most costs increased while revenues lagged. But residents still have high expectations for city services. Residents still want police and fire services to continue at quality levels. They want roads repaired, buildings maintained, and nicer amenities. But costs rise as revenues fall, and supporting all city services without commercial growth becomes untenable.

In 2010, federal officials encouraged Oskaloosa and Pella to work together in planning a regional airport that would meet the growing future needs of both communities. The FAA had serious safety concerns about “necessary clear zones” at the current Oskaloosa Airport, which is inconvenient for businesses. The regional airport is part of a regional intermodal transportation plan, tying our community industries to more extensive transportation networks with support from the FAA and DOT. While Mahaska County has terminated its participation in the 28E agreement, the City of Oskaloosa sees the regional airport as a critical dimension of area growth that will benefit and grow the city, while also providing financial benefits for the county.

Recently, the Department of Transportation presented to the Mahaska County Supervisors, keynoting the economic impact that a regional airport can have on commercial tax base growth. Regional airports often support agriculture (aerial application platforms), public safety (EMS helicopters), and business (transportation/cargo), providing substantial economic activity across the state. Aerospace-related industries, a growing portion of the business market, often establish near airport properties, adding to the commercial tax base and adding jobs to the area.

The need for growth in the commercial tax base arises from the city’s efforts to improve existing conditions and ensure long-term sustainability. Current social and economic conditions highlighted the need for growth, prompting the city to adopt a robust economic development strategy. The city remains fiscally constrained while dealing with aging infrastructure and unfunded mandates. This necessitates taking significant measures to ensure fiscal sustainability and maintain the current level of service in the short term. The city’s leadership is proactively building for the future, focusing on improving the quality of life to attract a skilled workforce, additional businesses, and private investments. The anticipated return on investment is expected to lower the average cost, eventually addressing leadership concerns about the cost burden on residents.

Ultimately, our goal is to serve our community and to provide the most significant return on investment for any tax dollars spent. We fully understand that many city and county residents may never have a use for a regional airport and do not see any personal need for it. However, providing transportation hub services to local businesses and industries in the region eventually lowers the cost of government, infrastructure, and education for everyone. When we (city and county) plan for long-term sustainability, we must always look to the “big picture” economic development measures, encouraging strategic growth of the commercial tax base while reducing the cost burden to taxpayers whenever possible.

by Oskaloosa City Manager Amal Eltahir

Posted by on Jun 23 2023. Filed under Editorial, Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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