MASON CITY – The year was 2003.
Jean Marinos was newly-elected as Mason City’s mayor that February and within weeks, City Hall would follow through on a project called Northbridge that continues to haunt the city budget ten years later.
Northbridge was a semi-grand development project supported by downtown proponents and the Globe Gazette, among others. It accomplished one goal – keeping Fareway downtown – and little else (we lost Calvary Alliance Church), at a cost of millions of dollars to Mason City taxpayers.
The pain of Northbridge continues to haunt the taxpayers of Mason City.
According to figures released to NIT, debt for the Fareway grocery store phase of the Northbridge project was issued on April 1, 2003 for $2,000,000. The original debt issue was for 15 years at a true interest cost of 5.2485% per year average and paid for through the Community Growth TIF revenues. The city pays interest on the debt every six months (December and June) and principal once a year in June. The debt has been re-financed by the city’s Finance Department to a more manageable true interest cost of 1.1791% over the remaining six years. The debt won’t be fully retired until 2018.
For this fiscal year, the city will pay $291,046 for Northbridge debt. Interestingly, the city needed to cut $295,000 from its budget this year to avoid a tax increase. To offset the shortfall, the Mayor and City Council have tentatively decided to raid retirement accounts for fire fighters, police officers and other city employees.
The city is now embarking on another two-syllable project called Blue Zones. Time will tell what the true cost to taxpayers is and what the end benefit to the community will hold.