Branstad surveys Eastern Iowa flood damage

Corbett suggests tweaking sales tax program to help fund flood system

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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s too soon to know what assistance Gov. Terry Branstad will ask the Legislature to provide flood-impacted communities on the Cedar, Shell Rock and Wapsipinicon rivers, but Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has some suggestions.

Corbett met informally Wednesday with the governor as he toured Vinton, Palo and Cedar Rapids. The city may ask for an expansion of a flood mitigation program that allows it to capture some of its retail sales tax growth to finance flood protection, he said. It also may seek more buyout opportunities.

Branstad didn’t rule anything in or out other than to say his proposal will be based on recommendations from state and local agencies and be fiscally prudent.

“I’m sure there will be more things we want to do,” Branstad said after seeing a labyrinth of barriers that protected the Vinton fire station and an electric generation plant on the bank of the Cedar River. “Every time we want to learn from the experience and see how we can do things better in the future.”

That was a common theme as the governor, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Army National Guard Adjutant Gen. Tim Orr and Emergency Management Director Mark Schouten met with local officials.

For Corbett, it was an opportunity to show how lessons from 2008 have been applied to reduce the flood impact over the past week.

“We want to show people the value of the flood mitigation efforts over the past eight years,” Corbett said at the downtown public library. “Imagine this last week if the library was at the old site along the river. All of the books, all of the magazines, everything would have had to been relocated and the whole facility sandbagged. Tens of thousands of dollars would have been spent, but because we moved the library that didn’t have to take place; and volunteers were deployed elsewhere.”

Branstad said he learned a long time ago that in emergency situations “the key is to get there, see the circumstances and take decisive action to prevent further damage.” Another lesson learned is to plan for the next disaster.

“Every year we have some disaster. Sometimes big ones. Sometimes small ones,” the governor said.

Although Branstad said flood protection measures completed with the bond-financed I-JOBS program approved after 2008 helped protect communities from the current flooding, he prefers a pay-as-you-go approach to disaster readiness and recovery.

“We shouldn’t be mortgaging our future to pay for things we know we’re going to have to deal with,” he said. “That was borrowed money and we’re paying it back to the tune of $55 million a year.”

While he didn’t offer an opinion on Corbett’s suggestion of expanding the sales-tax financed flood mitigation plan, Branstad prefers that over debt financing.

That would be the logic behind allowing the city to expand its 20-year, $264 million plan to build a flood protection system on both sides of the Cedar River using sales tax revenue, Corbett said.

It would help Cedar Rapids and other communities if the Legislature extended the length of the program and raised the cap of up to $15 million per year.

A key to that flood protection, Corbett and Branstad agreed, is for the federal government to release its $73 million of the project funding.

The funds have been authorized, but not appropriated.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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