Housing incentives considered again

Fort Dodge officials are once again thinking about incentives the city could offer to jumpstart the construction of new houses.

As council members discussed strategic planning during a Monday evening workshop, City Manager David Fierke said he will be consulting with leaders of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance regarding ways to encourage new housing starts. He said he hopes to present a plan to the council in November or December.

Last year, the council approved a package of property tax breaks for the construction of new single family houses and apartment buildings.

”That didn’t create a big firestorm of new housing starts,” Fierke said.

The incentives included in the 2013 Consolidated Urban Revitalization Area will be phased out in January 2016.

”I think there has to be more of an incentive there,” said Councilman Dave Flattery.

He said the city is lacking in ”middle income housing,” which he defined as homes that are priced between $125,000 and $200,000.

In response to a question from Councilman Jeffrey Halter, Fierke said the high cost of a lot complete with all the needed infrastructure is the biggest hurdle impeding new home construction in the city.

”You cannot put the house on there that people want at the price they want,” Fierke said.

He added that in Fort Dodge there has been no recent history of developers building multiple houses and selling them quickly. Such a history, he said, would encourage home builders to do more business in the city.

A potential future source of money to support the Oleson Park Zoo was also introduced during the strategic planning workshop.

Fierke said Iowa cities have the ability to levy a tax to support zoos if that tax is approved by the voters during a referendum. He did not know what the allowable tax rate for a zoo is.

”We have not determined that we’re going to a referendum,” he said after the council meeting.

The city government now contributes $500 a year for the zoo in Oleson Park on South 17th Street. The Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo, a nonprofit group which owns the animals, pays the rest of the costs of running the attraction.