We need to face our challenges

We need to face our challenges
 
Date October 05, 2005
Section(s) Columnists
Newton Daily News Editorial  
 
Newton has long benefitted from its relationship with Maytag. The company founded in Newton 112 years ago has supplied generations with stable employment, provided a tax base to enable the city to provide first-rate services and been a generous contributor to the development of the physical assets that sets this community apart.

But Maytag‘s future in Newton is now up in the air. No one knows — or is saying — what its future might hold.

Some indicators, as previous stories in this newspaper’s continuing series have pointed out, say that maybe it won’t be so bad should Maytag leave or pare its presence down. The community has appeared to weather the first onslaught of Maytag job reductions fairly well. Residential property values are up and the market remains strong. U.S. Census Bureau population estimates — as can be verified by the first growth in school enrollment levels in the past seven years — are on the upswing in Newton and countywide. And those who have lost jobs appear to have found new ones, largely due to Newton’s easy access to the Des Moines metro area’s strong economy and job opportunity base.

But, we fear, these indicators may only be offering false hope. The reality of Newton’s current plight may be much more severe.

As the news articles today and Tuesday show, the City of Newton is close to rope’s end when it comes to its ability to provide basic city services to its residents. The city has already lost nearly $32 million in taxable value due to decisions made 10 years ago — probably rightly so — to keep Maytag in Newton. Growth tactics initiated by the city — including urban renewal, tax increment financing and tax abatement — have proven to be hugely successful over the years but have stymied the flow of tax dollars to the bottom line. State-set percentages of how much local governments can tax on the value of residential property have fallen so low that Newton’s $12 million valuation increase this year actually results in a $4 million loss.

And all this is while Maytag is still here. Pull Maytag out, including its $1.68 million property tax payment, and the future becomes much less secure.

We are at a crucial juncture in our history. Changes loom ahead. Maytag‘s likely departure or lessened presence would have a huge impact on the health of this community. We cannot escape that fact.

But we must also realize that we can have a say in our community’s future path. It is up to the residents of Newton and Jasper County to forge a successful future, regardless of Maytag‘s course.

First, we need to assess the risks we face.

Next, we need to identify the assets and resources we do possess that can help us grow. Further, we need to understand what specific growth opportunities and strategies have the most potential for us.

Finally, we need to take steps now to pursue those possibilities.

That effort, however, won’t be easy. But it’s a challenge we must face.

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