Government

Cedar Rapids tax rate stays same, utilities to increase

Hike in stormwater fee will go toward flash flooding problems

Two vehicles drive through water on Blairs Ferry Road NE in Cedar Rapids during a June 11, 2015, storm. An increase in the city’s stormwater utility rate will allow the city to begin upgrading flash flood protections, “an issue that’s very important to the city,” council member Scott Olson said. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Two vehicles drive through water on Blairs Ferry Road NE in Cedar Rapids during a June 11, 2015, storm. An increase in the city’s stormwater utility rate will allow the city to begin upgrading flash flood protections, “an issue that’s very important to the city,” council member Scott Olson said. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — While the Cedar Rapids property tax rate will remain unchanged for the 10th straight year, residents will see their utility bills increase under the fiscal 2019 city budget approved by the City Council on Tuesday.

Upgrades and operating costs to the city’s water, wastewater and stormwater management infrastructure are prompting the uptick in utility rates, which will increase 3.7 percent overall. That’s an increase of $40.92 a year for a typical home customer.

The stormwater utility rate is going up 10 percent, to bring in an estimated $272,000 in additional revenue.

Council member Scott Olson said the increase puts the city in a position to upgrade its stormwater flash flooding protection — something he said the city needs.

“We’ve had flash flooding, and it’s an issue that’s very important to the city,” he said. “Finally, we have a master plan. We need that to do projects that have been put on the shelf for years. I think it’s important that we all are aware that we are starting to make progress.”

The city’s utility departments also will contribute a combined $500,000 to the city’s economic development fund in the coming fiscal year.

The council on Tuesday unanimously approved the fiscal year 2019 budget, which will take effect July 1. Council members Ann Poe and Martin Hoeger were absent.

The utility rate changes also unanimously passed the first of three required readings.

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“A lot of what I’ve heard over the last six or eight months, from folks I’ve talked to, is reflected in this budget,” council member Tyler Olson said. “I’m proud to say I really think it reflects the community’s priorities.”

Council member Dale Todd noted a desire to see future budgeting discussions include more presentation on the Cedar Rapids Police Department, which makes up about 62 percent of the city’s operating budget.

The $500 million-plus city budget includes $124.9 million in general fund revenue and expenditures, a 3.6 percent increase from the current fiscal year’s $120.6 million operating budget.

The residential property tax rate remains at $15.22 per $1,000 in taxable valuation for the 10th straight year.

The city also will set aside $4 million for flood control during the 2019 fiscal year. That compares to $1 million this year.

Library

The new budget includes a $100,000 increase to the Cedar Rapids Public Library budget.

Amber Mussman, the library’s community relations manager, said the library board would make a decision on how to use those funds, possibly at the board’s April meeting.

One option includes restoring some library hours of operation lost in budget cuts after voters rejected a 27-cent library property tax levy in 2015. Several City Council members last month expressed a desire to those hours restored.

In 2016, the library eliminated 20 hours of service — equal to about 15 percent of the library’s hours of operation — to balance its budget. With that, the city’s two libraries began closing an hour earlier in the evenings. The downtown library closed on Sundays, and the westside Ladd Library closed on Saturdays.

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Council member Ashley Vanorny on Tuesday said an upcoming goal-setting discussion could focus on the library hours.

SCHOOL agreement

The council also approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Cedar Rapids Community School District to create a committee — three council members, three school board members, two city staffers and two school district employees — to provide input to the school board as the board oversees the potential closure of eight elementary schools.

RoughRiders

The council approved a 15-year lease agreement with Newco Riders, known as the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. The agreement includes the option of adding another 20 years to the lease. (See story on Page 3B.)

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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