Linn County Conservation Board approves water bond percentages, Supervisors could amend ballot language

List of 30 potential projects has been developed

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County’s conservation board has set a distribution plan to be used for $40 million in conservation bond funds — if November voters approve the measure.

Meanwhile, the Linn County Board of Supervisors may amend ballot language for the proposed water quality bond to include those funding percentages.

The Linn County Conservation Board on Monday approved a resolution establishing percentages — 55 percent for water quality and land protection, 30 percent for parks and 15 percent for trails — for the proposed 20-year Linn County Water and Land Legacy bond.

A list of nearly 30 water, park and trail projects has been developed as potential bond projects.

“I like the comprehensiveness, we’ve been talking about this stuff for years,” said Conservation Board Member Cindy Burke. “There’s incredible detail in it and yet there’s flexibility.”

Supervisor Brent Oleson also applauded the board’s efforts.

“A lot of people have had input on these items,” he said. “Everyone benefits from our water source, our water quality measures.”

Meanwhile, Supervisor James Houser on Monday said it’s possible the Board of Supervisors may add those same percentages to the actual ballot language before voters this November. Adding specificity to the ballot language — which has been questioned by some in the community — could help the measure reach the 60 percent voter approval needed to pass, he said.

“The board is talking about the ballot language, including the percentages you just confirmed today,” Houser said to the Conservation Board. “We feel maybe there would be a higher success rate with the specifics on the ballot language.”

Supervisors have until Aug. 31 to make amendments to the referendum, which they unanimously approved earlier this month.

Dan Beichler, County Conservation director, said the Conservation Board’s resolution aims to provide more transparency and accountability for the five-member board’s use of potential bond funds. If the bond is approved, the board would identify projects and manage bond funds, with the Board of Supervisors giving final approval when issuing bonds.

A public survey earlier this year found 63 percent of Linn County respondents would support such a bond and master planning efforts in previous years mirror several water quality measures proposed in the bond’s project list.

County officials estimate the bond to cost the average homeowner an extra $27 a year.

Current ballot language indicates that funds raised by the bond sale would be used to protect water sources, acquire land for natural floodwater storage and improve water quality through parks, trails and natural area projects.

County conservation staff say money raised from the bond sales could leverage more revenue from federal and state grants.

If the referendum passes, Linn County’s would be only the third conservation bond in the state, along with Johnson and Polk counties, officials said.

In 2008, Johnson County voters passed a similar conservation bond issue — of up to $20 million — with a narrow 61 percent approval.

Of the $5.6 million of bond funds spent so far, another $4.7 million has been leveraged from grants.

 

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