By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — Voters will decide in a referendum March 3 whether to redirect the local option sales tax to help fund an economic development program called Davenport Promise.
Passage of the referendum would allow the funds to be used to offer money for college tuition, vocational training and apprenticeships to students residing in Davenport who attend public, Catholic or private schools or who are home-schooled.
Currently, the local option sales tax is used for property tax relief (60 percent) and capital improvements (40 percent). The referendum seeks to change the tax to fund Davenport Promise scholarships (90 percent) and public safety (10 percent).
Ken Croken, treasurer of the Davenport Promise Task Force, emphasizes that this “is not a tax increase. We would like to reallocate existing tax dollars.”
He said Davenport Promise started out focusing on growth and jobs for Davenport.
“We concluded the city needed to undertake a growth strategy to bring more families and jobs to Davenport. We want to attract and retain businesses and people to this community.”
The task force got the idea for Davenport Promise from a similar program in Kalamazoo, Mich. According to the Kalamazoo Promise Web site, public school graduates can attend post-secondary university or community college within the state of Michigan with scholarships that could cover up to 100 percent of the cost. The plan does not apply to students in Catholic or other private schools. Kalamazoo’s Promise is funded by anonymous donors.
Davenport Promise would be funded by redirecting the current local option sales tax. Students would be eligible to receive funds limited to not more than the cost of tuition at Scott Community College, the three state university schools in Iowa or Western Illinois University.
Students attending any Davenport public or private school and those who are home schooled and reside within the city would be eligible. Students who live in Davenport, but attend North Scott or Bettendorf schools because of district lines, also would be eligible. Those opting for open enrollment outside of Davenport would be ineligible.
Davenport Promise would allow high school graduates to use the money for college tuition at any accredited two- or four-year college/university in state or out of state. Money also could be used for vocational training, up to $7,500. Trade apprenticeship assistance would be eligible. Also, a returning veteran homestead grant would be available upon discharge to assist in the purchase of a home. That amount is up to $7,500.
Recipients would be required to do community service.
“Most high school students have some community service to do right now,” Croken said. “Assumption High School students are very involved in community service.”
But the proposal for funding Davenport Promise has drawn opposition. Mark Nelson, chairperson for Opt4Better, said his group does not oppose the scholarship idea — but does oppose the way it would be funded.
“It should be paid with private entity donations,” he said. “We should not be using tax dollars.”
Nelson said the study that the task force used, the Upjohn Institute review of Davenport Promise, notes there will be a shortfall in the capital improvement fund for 25 years. “There is no way we should be taking from capital improvements.”
That would adversely affect services and raise taxes, he said. The task force says it would not.
The economy is not doing as well as when the study was conducted, which means the dollar amounts are off as well, Nelson said. “There are many flaws with this project.
“There is no rational basis for the economic growth that the study shows,” he added.
Croken says Davenport Promise could give Davenport the advantage to recruit potential employers and bring jobs to Davenport. “Now more than ever Davenport needs to reinvent itself.”
Both men encourage voters to study the report and information on Davenport Promise.
No matter which way the votes go, Nelson said society benefits from people voting.