Government

Linn County supervisor John Harris talks recovery, resiliency during annual address

Harris lists 3 stages of 2008 flood: nightmare, bad dream, bad memory

Linn County Supervisor John Harris presents a video Wednesday during the annual State of the County luncheon at The Hotel by Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids. He talked about upcoming projects in the county and saluted the work done in the past 10 years to recover from the 2008 flood. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Linn County Supervisor John Harris presents a video Wednesday during the annual State of the County luncheon at The Hotel by Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids. He talked about upcoming projects in the county and saluted the work done in the past 10 years to recover from the 2008 flood. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The memory of the 2008 flood still runs deep for Linn County Supervisor John Harris, but the resilience Iowans have shown in the 10 years since the flood is what stands out to Harris as he looks toward the future.

“We are all blessed with our Iowa resolve to work hard and get back up when we’re down,” said Harris, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, during the annual State of the County address at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. “ ... We’ve come so far as a community through struggles and challenges. We are resilient, we are strong, and we have much to be proud of.”

Since the flood, much work has gone into restoring roads and reconstructing buildings in Linn County.

Harris listed three stages to the flood recovery: the nightmare stage, the bad dream stage and the bad memory stage.

“I hope we are in the bad memory stage,” he said. “But I still sting a little bit when I think about that flood.”

In addition to restoring existing buildings and roads, Harris looked forward to key projects in the works in Linn County.

Just last week, workers broke ground on the $28.1 million Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Youth Development Services building honoring the impact the couple had on public health, education and civil rights in the community.

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On Thursday, a groundbreaking is planned for Prospect Meadows, an $18 million facility that will house 17 baseball diamonds, including a “Miracle Field” with a rubberized diamond accessible to children with disabilities.

“We must continue to look forward to see the vision of where we want to go and how we want to get there because there remains much work and opportunity before us,” Harris said.

Harris, a Republican who is seeking re-election this fall, struck a less optimistic tone when discussing activity in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“I think we were lucky that the Legislature ran out of time before they could have an impact on reducing the backfill to make up for a reduction on commercial property tax,” Harris said, though he anticipates this will be on the top of the legislative agenda in 2019.

The backfill is money legislators authorized in 2013 when they cut the commercial property tax rate by 10 percent, which in turn reduced the property tax revenue cities, counties and schools collect.

Republican lawmakers during the 2018 legislative session indicated they planned to phase out the backfill payments, which this year amount to about $150 million statewide.

“I remember in the not-too-distant past that we, as a group, kept trying to spur the Legislature to do something,” Harris said. “This year, it seemed we were trying to spur the Legislature into not doing so much.”

Harris also touched on county politics, looking ahead to the county’s adjustment to a three-member rather than five-member board next year.

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The larger board has been instrumental in helping the county recover from the flood, Harris said, and he expressed a concern that three supervisors would not be able to take as many calls from constituents as five supervisors now do.

“Perhaps in six years, the voters will vote again on what’s right, and that’s five, but come January, there will be three,” Harris said. “ ... Thank goodness and thank god for those five.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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