Candidate Q&As 2023: Mark Hallam for Newton City Council, Ward 1

Oct. 28—Name: Mark Hallam

Age: 62

Occupation: Consultant

Elected offices held: Newton City Council

Office seeking: Newton City Council, Ward 1

1. Introduce/Reintroduce yourself to voters and explain why you are running.

I was raised in Newton and graduated from Newton High School in 1979. Having always believed in giving back to one's community, I have devoted uncounted hours in service to Newton nonprofit organizations, to local government and to you. I am running for reelection because of my commitment to the future of this city and of its residents. My civic and volunteer activities have included: trustee, Newton Community Educational Foundation; commissioner, Newton Historic Preservation Commission; serving as a board member of Newton Main Street, the Newton Housing Development Corporation, the Berg Middle School Bond Committee; and as past president of the Newton Alumni Association. I was appointed to the city council to fill a vacancy in 2018, elected in 2019, and firmly believe my demonstrated record of commitment and service to the city of Newton during the past 14 years is worthy of your continued support on November 7.

2. Housing continues to be a priority for Newton, a city whose population has remained relatively stagnant for several decades. How do you think the city should approach new housing?

In every way possible. Development is coming to Newton for two reasons: (1) the untiring efforts of the city's economic development division and its partner organizations to bring more industry — and jobs — to Newton, and (2) as the Des Moines metropolitan area expands eastward Newton will become more attractive to commuters. Already we see high demand for housing reflected in inflated prices. In my view, the only way to address this issue is for the city, along with the Newton Housing Development Corporation, to have the infrastructure in place for new owner-occupied housing to be constructed. Just as importantly, the city must continue to work with private developers as they add additional rental units to the city's housing stock. Only through these specific actions can Newton be prepared for the growth that is certain to come.

3. Street projects are frequent goals for the city council every year, but some people in town say more work is needed. How do you feel about the city's current processes when it comes to street repairs and replacements?

Street repair and reconstruction are a never-ending project in all cities. Like many of you, it's easy for me to note what remains to be done. Yet I feel Newton's current processes are more than adequate — as evidenced by what's been accomplished. For example, during the last three years alone, First Avenue East was repaved and sidewalks placed where none had been before, blocks upon blocks of residential streets were overlaid along with new curbs and handicap accessible crosswalks, and the long-awaited Union Drive reconstruction began. Also, it's important to remember streets are not simply utilitarian: in 2022, four downtown city blocks were not only reconstructed with new curbs and gutters, but also with new sidewalks, the creation of green space between the sidewalk and street and new ornamental lighting. This is, of course, only a partial accounting of what's been accomplished in the area of streets during the past three years. Even more projects are planned for next summer: reconstruction projects on West Fourth Street South and West Sixth Street South, and four more city block reconstruction projects near downtown to include similar green space improvements and new sidewalks.

4. One of the goals of Newton's new comprehensive plan, Envision Newton 2042, is to make the city a compelling destination for residents and visitors. How do you think the city should go about accomplishing this goal?

Many of the right approaches are already in play. Among those, I would call your attention to an increasingly vibrant downtown Square, thanks in part to the downtown facade grant improvement program, second story housing initiatives and Lions Gate Apartments. The ongoing development at Legacy Plaza to construct 70+ apartments is a game-changer for making Newton a compelling destination for new residents, and the hotel component of that project will bring additional visitors to Newton. I personally would like to see more elements of the comprehensive downtown streetscape plan implemented and more bike trails but, in the real world, revenue is required and continuing the course of promoting economic growth is the only way additional amenities can be realized.

5. Newton Police is attracting new recruits and putting them through the academy, but many decide to leave for higher paying jobs. How do you think the city gets out of its role as a pipeline? What are ways the city can retain officers?

Salaries are important, but only part of the answer. I believe recruiting officers with the expectation they will live in the city, become invested in the City of Newton with their families, is the ultimate key to retention. Once a new resident "puts down roots," the potential attraction of a higher salary in the metropolitan area is not nearly as attractive.

6. Council goals from 2022-2024 and the $1.6 million park bond passed by voters show an increased focus on city parks. How do you think the council should handle its parks system and the amenities that come with them?

I believe the City of Newton is already 100% committed to the maintenance and expansion of its parks system.

7. Property taxes continue to be a concern for residents, especially after another round of increased valuations means they may have to pay more. How do you think the city should maneuver its levies and its use of property taxes?

It's a difficult situation as residents in cities all over Iowa have faced increasing valuations through assessments by their respective county assessors offices. I encourage residents to look carefully at their statements and note the percentage of total property taxes allocated to the city, county, school district and other taxing entities. It's especially important to point out that thanks to the Iowa Legislature, not all the increased valuation is actually taxable due to the residential rollback. This year, for example, the rollback meant that 54% of a property's assessed value could actually be taxed. Next year the expectation is that residential taxable valuation will drop to 47%. As I see it, the real issue in maneuvering through the city's use of property taxes is one of deciding priorities. There's never "enough" to do all that is possible, and I remind myself continuing the course of promoting economic development is the only long-term solution.

8. How will you keep politics out of local government?

Focus on the positive. Wonderful things have happened in Newton during the past few years: new housing, downtown streetscape improvements and new and expanding businesses. We have successfully laid the foundation for an increase in population and an expanding tax base and those successes must never be minimized in the public mind. To keep "politics" out of local government, we must focus on these successes and ask ourselves: How do we repeat these successes? How do we expand upon them? What positive, forward-thinking policies are best for the continued long-term success of Newton? And we must be specific. At the local level, politics should be about commitment and evaluating trade-offs given budgetary constraints. Perhaps just as importantly, we must take into account the disadvantages of inaction and be certain the city never returns to the failed polices of previous city councils from 15 years ago. The most responsive level of government is local government, and I am proud of my own dependability and accessibility to residents. Between focusing on the positive, being specific in advocacy, and being accessible to residents, I believe I have already kept "politics" out of local government. With your support on November 7, I will continue this approach to represent you to the best of my ability.