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Think like a merged metro area


A vote on whether the governments of Polk County and the city of Des Moines should merge is still at least a year away, but that shouldn’t stop the metropolitan area from thinking and acting like one city with one government.

A couple of trial balloons to help accomplish that were sent up at our recent forum on commercial real estate trends. One that makes immediate sense is the standardization of development standards among city and county governments in Greater Des Moines, an idea being considered by the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Project Destiny infrastructure committee.

Jurisdictional lines have been blurred by growth patterns in the western suburbs and the absence of a single set of standards places developers, especially those whose projects straddle county lines, in the middle of a political firestorm. For example, officials in Dallas County, where most of the growth in the western suburbs is occurring, take a dramatically different approach to economic development than do their counterparts in Polk County.

The Dallas County Board of Supervisors recently approved a six-month moratorium on rural subdivision development while officials study proposed ordinances to protect farmland and environmentally sensitive areas.

A recommendation from the Partnership, which has been successful in presenting a unified voice in areas such as transportation funding requests to the federal government, could go a long way toward implementing a more cohesive approach to development throughout the metropolitan area.

The idea of tax-revenue sharing is similarly sensible, albeit harder to accomplish given the apparent lack of political will in the Legislature to do more than pay lip service to the idea of streamlining and updating local government in Iowa.

A more equitable distribution of the spoils of economic development could level the playing field between cities such as valuation-rich West Des Moines and valuation-poor Des Moines when they’re competing for new businesses. Assurance that all local governments will get some benefit of new development regardless of which specific city it’s located in could also lead to more judicious use of development incentives such as tax increment financing and tax abatements.

As important as we think consolidated government is in developing a unified voice for the metropolitan area, it won’t solve all our ills. Ideas for the standardization of development standards and tax-base sharing should occupy a place of equal prominence in public dialogue.  

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