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Cedar Falls' hoists the championship trophy up as they celebrate a 65-45 win over Iowa City West in the class 4A Iowa High School Boys Basketball Tournament on Friday in Des Moines.

Tigers win state title

DES MOINES — It was Cedar Falls’ first trip to the state boys’ basketball finals, and the Tigers made the most of it Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena.

Cedar Falls (21-5) led wire to wire to beat top-seeded Iowa City West 65-45 and claim the 4A championship. A 4A dynasty, West (21-5) was seeking its second straight title, its fifth in seven seasons and eighth overall.

Cedar Falls (21-5) won three games in three days under the tournament’s new five-day format.

The Tigers pulled off the monumental task of beating the defending state champs twice in one season.

“I never saw any fear in their eyes and I never saw any the whole year,” Cedar Falls head coach Ryan Schultz said. “There’s something special in these guys where they believe in themselves and they believe in each other.”

AJ Green led the Tigers with 24 points. Logan Wolf had 14 and Ben Gerdes added 12.

“I knew we always had it in us,” said Green, who also had nine rebounds and was named captain of the all-tournament team.

The finishing touch came when deep reserve and senior Jacob Nelson banked in a 3-pointer. The starters erupted on the bench.

“We knew to become a great team that we all had to become involved,” Schultz said.

Game story, C8.

3 firms, including 2 breweries, have submitted plans to go in Waterloo Public Market

WATERLOO — Two different brewers and a combination bicycle and clothing store are all making pitches to occupy the city’s vacant RiverLoop Public Market Building.

The city has received three proposals from ventures interested in leasing the building at 327 W. Third St., which has remained empty since the original tenant, a grocery and restaurant cooperative, failed in September 2016.

The building, renovated as part of the city’s Riverfront Renaissance project using a state grant, is in a key downtown location, visible from U.S. Highway 218 and located on the RiverLoop Expo Plaza near the amphitheater, convention center and Cedar Valley SportsPlex.

Proposals were received from Lark Brewing Co., which would invest more than $500,000 into opening a beer brewery, tasting room and barbecue restaurant; Verve Kombucha, also investing more than $500,000 into a kombucha brewery and bistro; and Waterloo Bicycle Works, which would move into the space, add a deli and share the building with Raygun, a Des Moines-based clothing and home goods retailer.

“They all look like very good proposals … and they all bring something unique to downtown,” said Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson. “It’s going to be a tough choice.”

City staff were planning to meet with the Waterloo Development Corp., a nonprofit organization assisting with downtown redevelopment, before holding a work session to discuss the options with the City Council, which ultimately would approve any lease for the building.

Lark Brewing, a partnership between Barmuda Corp.’s Darin Beck and Sean Christensen, is currently operating in the lower level of the former Beck’s Taproom on University Avenue and had been planning to move to downtown Cedar Falls until the Public Market opportunity arose.

Lark’s proposal would relocate and expand the brewing operation while adding a full-service barbecue restaurant open seven days a week. It expects to employ 50 people.

Beck said the location just a block from SingleSpeed Brewing would benefit both businesses and downtown.

“It’s important to note that Lark was Waterloo’s first official brewery, and having both breweries located so close together is actually a draw for both and puts Waterloo on the map as a brewery destination,” Beck said in Lark’s proposal.

“Brewery tourism is at an all-time high and continues to grow every year,” he added. “Some people actually plan vacations around touring craft breweries today.”

Verve Kombucha is a partnership including SingleSpeed founder Dave Morgan, developer Brent Dahlstrom and Sidecar Coffee owner Andy Fuchtman.

Their plan involves opening Iowa’s second kombucha brewery along with a bistro, which would be open Tuesday through Saturday. Kombucha is a low-alcohol fermented tea which is growing in popularity and marketed as having health benefits from being rich in probiotics.

“Our product is health-focused, perfect for neighbors of the SportsPlex, a bike shop, a yoga studio, etc.,” Verve said in its proposal. “A bistro in our area will lend itself well to future use of the Expo grounds for events, weddings and festivals.”

The business is expected to employ four full-time and 16 part-time staff and, following renovations, would be expected to open for business in April 2019.

Waterloo Bicycle Works, currently located across Third Street in the Kistner Building, has proposed moving its bike repair, maintenance and sales operation into the expanded space, adding a cafe or deli and using the space for a variety of public events.

“The bicycle industry is trending toward what some are calling the ‘Bike Shop Plus,’ an open shared space that a bicycle shop and at least one other business — usually cafe, beer hall, etc — occupy,” owner Greg Young said in his proposal.

Young also has a commitment from Raygun, a retailer largely know for its unique array of t-shirt slogans, to sublease a portion of the building. Raygun has stores in Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Kansas City.

Waterloo Bicycle Works would create four full-time and two part-time jobs in the bike shop and cafe. The business would also use the kitchen to make soaps and body products for sale on site and elsewhere.

Lark was seeking a five-year lease with an option for a second five years and a chance to buy the building after 10 years. It offered lease rates starting at $3,500 per month and growing to $5,500 per month.

Verve was proposing a five- to seven-year lease of the building with rents ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 per month.

Waterloo Bicycle Works was asking for free rent for the first year with annual reviews in future years and a first right of refusal should the city put the building up for sale.

All three proposals are seeking property tax rebates on the value they add to the property. Lark and Verve are also seeking a $50,000 city grant for signage and building improvements.

Matthew Putney / MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor  

The RiverLoop Public Market Co-op in downtown Waterloo is closed.


Philip Batchelder unwraps newly arrived tulips in the floral arranging area at Bancroft's Flowers in Cedar Falls. 

Local leaders decry state move to cut 'backfill' pay

DES MOINES — Cities and counties soon may have less money than expected as a result of business tax relief passed by the state five years ago.

That could include layoffs, reduced services or tax increases, local leaders say.

State lawmakers five years ago lowered property taxes for commercial and industrial businesses. The plan called for the state to make annual payments to local governments that lost revenue as a result.

Now, with the state budget undergoing midyear cuts for a second consecutive year, state lawmakers will consider reducing or eliminating the payments.

Leaders across the state said they are disappointed the state appears to be breaking its promise, and expressed concern about the impact on their budgets.

“We are extremely concerned with this (proposal) because it is a lot of money for the city of Sioux City,” said Donna Forker, Sioux City’s finance director. “It was a promise made in previous years that this money would be there for us to compensate us for actions taken by the state.”

The state makes just more than $150 million in annual payments to local governments to help them cover the money forfeited by the commercial and industrial property tax rollback.

Republicans in the majority in the House have proposed capping the payments at $100 million for the coming budget year, then gradually reducing the amount until it reached $25 million in the state budget year that starts July 1, 2021.

Republicans in the majority in the Senate have proposed reducing that figure by one third in each of the next two budget years and eliminating the payment by the budget year that starts July 1, 2020.

“I believe they should be on the table for the next few years,” said Republican Jack Whitver, Senate president, during a recent episode of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.” “Ultimately that's $150 million that we're paying to the cities and counties that we'd like to phase out — I'd like to phase out.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds did not include such a reduction in her proposed state budget or her tax reform plan. She has not commented on the state backfill for future years, nor on either legislative proposal.

If the payments are reduced or eliminated, local governments — and local residents — will feel the impact, local leaders said.

The business property tax relief has not spurred the economic growth that was its stated goal, so the payments remain crucial to keeping local budgets whole, local leaders said.

Without them, local governments would need to make up the money elsewhere. That would mean laying off government staff, reducing government services or raising property taxes.

But many local governments cannot raise property taxes to make up the difference because they already tax at the legal limit.

“We would either have to raise the (property tax) levy or cut services, neither of which is attractive to us or our community,” said Scott Naumann, a Bettendorf City Council member and president-elect of the Iowa League of Cities. Bettendorf received more than $600,000 from the state backfill last year. “We’re in what we think is a tenuous position.”

That sentiment was echoed by officials across the state.

“I’m all for business investment and restructuring opportunities for our businesses, but we can’t just pull the rug up from under cities,” Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said.

Waterloo received more than $1.6 million last year, and Hart said a cut would lead to layoffs, possibly in areas like public safety.

“Now we’re talking about the ability for us to be able to properly police our streets, the ability to be able to provide the essential services,” Hart said.

“It’s a big concern to us. ... I do believe there (would be) some sort of decrease in service level,” said interim city administrator Kevin Jacobson of Mason City, which received more than $640,000.

Making matters worse, local officials say, is the proposals would begin with the state budget year that begins July 1. Many local governments have approved their budgets for the coming year, so reductions would mean cuts to planned spending.

“Counties would need to cut services that their citizens depend on in order to absorb that in a budget that’s already been set,” said Lucas Beenken, a public policy specialist with the Iowa State Association of Counties.

As officials built the city of Cedar Falls budget, they assumed there would be no payment, knowing lawmakers were considering the changes. Cedar Falls received nearly $580,000 a year ago.

That prevented Cedar Falls from being able to lower its property tax rate, city administrator Ron Gaines said.

“Our City Council made the policy decision to go ahead and budget not using backfill dollars,” Gaines said. “But they were hamstrung on what they could do with the (property tax) levy rate.”

“It’s like a lot of the commitments that the state makes,” Gaines added. “Usually at some point they don’t follow through.”

The consensus among local officials was the state should honor its commitment, but if lawmakers decide to eliminate the payments, local officials want a more gradual phase-out than either of the legislative proposals.

“If it’s a promise, it ought to be honored,” Naumann said. “If for some reason they elect not to stand by their word, we at least need to be a little more compassionate (about phasing out the payments).”

State officials: To avoid shutdown, Waterloo council must find common ground on budget


WATERLOO — The city may have lost its ability to raise property taxes next year after failing to approve a budget Thursday.

But state officials said the Waterloo City Council and Mayor Quentin Hart must compromise on a spending plan if they expect to avoid a municipal government shutdown after June 30.

“Waterloo will still need to complete the adoption of a budget by resolution of the council,” said Ted Nellesen of the Iowa Department of Management. “Without a budget adopted by resolution, the city would not be allowed to tax or expend cash on hand during (fiscal year 2018-19).”

About 16 of the state’s 947 incorporated cities have been penalized on average annually over the past five years for failing to submit a budget by the March 15 deadline.

That penalty prevents the city from adopting a tax rate that would cause non-debt service property taxes to be higher than the current year, Nellesen said. The council still could adopt a budget that lowers tax collection below this year’s level.

Hart was holding a series of meetings looking at budget options with his department heads Friday, the morning after a majority of council members rejected his proposed budget and Hart vetoed the budget they proposed in its place.

Hart’s plan would have raised the tax rate from $17.60 to $17.76 per $1,000 of value but kept overall tax collection flat and cut residential tax bills by 1.4 percent.

A majority of council members objected to Hart’s proposal to offset increased operating costs by raising the current gas and electric utility franchise fee from 3 percent to 3.5 percent.

Waterloo adopted a 2 percent utility franchise fee in 2013 that grew to 3 percent in 2014. Most of the state’s major cities have adopted utility franchise fees, some using the maximum 5 percent rate.

Council members Margaret Klein, Steve Schmitt, Bruce Jacobs and Chris Shimp then voted to approve a budget cutting the tax rate to $17.17, which was two-fifths of the way to the city’s strategic goal of cutting the rate to $16.50 by 2022.

Their proposal also eliminated the franchise fee increase and cut the city’s expected state revenue by $450,000 to match bills pending in the Legislature.

Council members Pat Morrissey, Jerome Amos Jr. and Sharon Juon opposed that budget, while Hart exercised his first mayoral veto after saying it would lead to an unacceptable level of service cuts, including the layoff of police officers and firefighters.

For reference, $12.14 of Hart’s proposed $17.76 tax rate pays for police and fire services. Another $2.99 pays city debt obligations, while voter-approved levies for the library and Grout Museum are locked at 27 cents each.

Just $2.09 of the levy pays for parks, the library, general administration, culture and arts and all other property tax supported operations.

Pressed to identify budget cuts to match their tax rate, Jacobs and Klein both said during the hearing it was up to Hart and department heads to make those decisions.

“The council sets the direction of the levy rate, and we expect the administration and department heads to find ways to help us get there,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think it’s our job to find what we’re going to cut. I don’t think you want council doing that.”

Klein added, “We are simply the big picture organization. I will leave the development of that to the administrators.”

Hart rejected those assertions, noting council members were present during the budget process when department heads laid out the implications of cutting their tax support.

“We have to remember there’s a reality to the decisions we make,” Hart said. “There’s no way you as policy makers are going to be able to abstain from having the consequences … that go along with that.”

Police officials said a 5 percent cut would eliminate 11 to 15 officers, dismantle the Violent Crimes Apprehension Team, Safe Streets Task Force and other programs.

Waterloo Fire Rescue said such a cut would permanently close Station No. 6 and remove an ambulance from service. The Waterloo Public Library would close more hours and lose its accreditation.

Klein, Juon and Morrissey were the only council members submitting written budget ideas before the vote. Juon generally supported Hart’s proposal, Morrissey mostly added additional fees to boost revenue, and Klein proposed several cuts.

Klein’s proposal included closing and attempting to sell South Hills golf course; closing the most “under performing” swimming pool, which was identified during the budget process as Gates Park; boosting fees to the county or ending shared services provided to the county government; freezing overtime; using interns; and not filling any vacant positions.