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Council addresses state issues with Smith, Sodders

December 4, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer ( , Times-Republican

State legislators Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, and Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, spoke to the Marshalltown City Council Monday night.

The two Democrats made an appearance for the third year in a row to answer questions relating to the city's relationship with the state.

Both men defended their seats - Sodders in State Senate District 36 and Smith in House District 71 - earlier in November.

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The city council aired its concerns and inquired how the men planned to address those concerns.

Randy Wetmore, city administrator, inquired whether either Sodders or Smith knew whether there had been any movement on an increase in the gas tax. Both men said they were unaware of any proposal tied to the gas tax.

"Last year, we all thought something was going to pass, and it didn't," Wetmore said.

Gov. Terry Branstad has gone back and forth on whether he will sign a bill allowing a gas tax increase, Sodders said. So, as of now, whether that tax will see an increase is still unknown until the governor makes a decision.

Smith said the governor has said that any increase in the gas tax would likely be tied to another of the council's concerns: commercial property tax reform.

Another question the council had relating to commercial property taxes is whether any proposed reform would allow a mechanism to backfill local municipalities for money lost due to lower commercial property taxes. Smith said he believes that such a system is one with the most merit and that he would continue to support it.

"My concern, is that if there is some type of backfill, will there be a guarantee back to the cities?" Mayor Thomas Thompson asked.

Smith said that he is not sure what the guarantee will be.

In the senate bill, if the growth of a state is more than 3 percent that would trigger reimbursements to cities, Sodders said.

Language in the house bill is looser, lacking any such trigger.

Wetmore said the retirement system for police officers and firefighters is set to increase another 4 percent, putting it up over 30 percent. Since the retirement plan is state controlled, he said he would like Sodders and Smith to see what they can do about making sure the city is not responsible for all the increases like it is now.

"If it gets up to 30 percent the balance has shifted," he said. "Thirty percent is a huge number no matter what others are getting."

Allowing guns in government buildings also came up.

Smith said he would oppose any effort that weakens current laws that allow officials to designated government buildings like the State Capitol gun-free zones.

He said he unaware of any effort to weaken those laws.

Sodders said his position is that it should be a local decision, but Wetmore said he is unsure whether the council holds such power.

Iowa Code seems to support Wetmore skepticism reading that "a political subdivision of the state shall not enact an ordinance regulating the ownership of firearms when the ownership is otherwise lawful under the laws of this state."

Finally, Wetmore bade the legislators to mitigate how often the state issues mandates, especially unfunded mandates - ones that the state requires but the city funds.

The 2013 legislative session begins Jan. 14.



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