Majority of $40 million from bond referendum would go to improving Linn County water quality

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CEDAR RAPIDS — More than half a proposed $40 million conservation bond will go toward Linn County water quality and land protection efforts.

If the bond passes voters Nov. 8, the remaining $18 million would focus on trails and parks — with an emphasis on water quality and protecting drinking water sources.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors on Monday discussed a referendum that would put a $40 million, 20-year general obligation bond before voters in the Nov. 8 election.

The bond would help fund a list of initiatives — from flood mitigation efforts and enhancing watershed areas to park improvements and trail connections — geared toward water quality.

“It’s always with clean water in mind. It’s not just for park improvements, it’s for clean water park improvements,” Supervisor John Harris said. “I’m confident and I’m positive this kind of effort and funding will do a lot. Not only in the areas where we can see it, but in those areas where we don’t.”

The board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the referendum — which was approved last month by the county conservation board.

A funding strategy draft for the effort — dubbed the Linn County Water and Land Legacy project — proposes dedicating 55 percent ($22 million) of the bond to water quality and land protection, 30 percent ($12 million) to park improvements and 15 percent ($6 million) to trails.

The bond referendum does not include a specific breakdown of projects to be funding. County staff say it’s likely bonds would be issued over time, rather than all at once.

Projects will be guided by existing master plan documents and all expenditures will be discussed by the county conservation board and reviewed by county supervisors.

Supervisor James Houser said the referendum is the result of several years of planning and research.

“It’s not something we just dreamed up today or dreamed up last week,” he said. “This has been going on for some period of time.”

A feasibility study in April, conducted by national non-profit Trust for Public Lands, at its own expense, found that a $40 million, 20-year general obligation bond would cost the average Linn County homeowner — or with a single family home assessed at about $142,000 — about $27 a year.

Tom Peffer, former member of the Linn County Conservation Board, during Monday’s meeting said the bond will help tackle large projects and spread the cost among the county’s more than 200,000 residents.

“Everybody wants clean water, there’s no question about that ... Everybody wants flood protection, but what can one person do about it? Not much,” he said. “But what each of us can do is support this kind of bond measure. Collectively, our $27 a year can make a huge difference.”

The bond will need at least 60 percent approval from voters to pass.

In May, a telephone survey of 400 randomly selected Linn County voters — commissioned by Trust for Public Lands — found 63 percent of respondents were in favor of a $40 million bond to protect water and natural areas and improve park and trail improvements.

Nearly 30 percent of respondents said they would oppose the bond and eight percent were undecided, according to survey findings. The survey’s margin for error is plus or minus 5 percent.

Bond votes have seen varied success in Eastern Iowa.

In 2008, 61 percent of Johnson County voters passed a $20 million conservation bond.

Meanwhile, a Cedar Rapids local library levy — which would have added about $23 a year to the property taxes of the owner of a $150,000 home — failed to pass with almost 55 percent of voters opposed.

For this bond, Houser said educating voters on the bond and getting people to the polls will be the biggest challenges between now and Nov. 8.

“Any time you’re trying to get something passed and you have more people participating, it definitely makes the chances greater,” he said.

Water quality and land protection:

• Wetland development and protection along the Cedar River at areas including Chain Lakes, Wickiup Hill, Palo Marsh, Goose Pond and North Cedar.

• Low-head dam modification at Pinicon Ridge county park.

• Acquire conservation easements to protect and enhance areas along major rivers and streams.

Park improvements:

• Relocate Morgan Creek County Park entrance and construct new day use area with picnic areas, shelters, restrooms, road access, parking and playground.

• Construct new day use area at Squaw Creek County Park with picnic areas, shelters, restrooms and playground.

• Day use area improvements to Buffalo Creek, Squaw Creek, Morgan Creek and Pinicon Ridge county parks including modern restrooms, ADA accessible picnic sites and modern park shelters.

Trails:

• Construct Morgan Creek trail network and connect to Cedar Rapids via Highway 100 Trail.

• Construct regional trail hub and complete regional trail connection from Grant Wood and Marion Trail to Sac & Fox trail in Cedar Rapids.

• Continue trail construction and paving along Cedar Valley Trail.

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