OPINION

Bond vote effect can be regional

Above the Buffalo Creek dam in Coggon on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Buffalo Creek is the largest tributary of the Wapsipinicon River, and the dam has affected the aquatic habitat both up and downstream. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
Above the Buffalo Creek dam in Coggon on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Buffalo Creek is the largest tributary of the Wapsipinicon River, and the dam has affected the aquatic habitat both up and downstream. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

So I asked Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett if the city council is planning to support Linn County’s Water and Land Legacy, the 20-year, $40 million bond issue on November’s ballot.

I figured the city might weigh in, considering a sizable chunk of those bucks are slated for restoring and expanding wetlands upstream along the Cedar River and its tributaries. That flood-mitigating “water storage” would benefit Cedar Rapids.

I also thought Cedar Rapids’ much-heralded upstream Middle Cedar Partnership project and moves to control urban runoff would mesh well with Linn County’s water quality push.

No, I did not think city support would deliver a load of votes. I didn’t even know if the county is seeking the city’s support. Turns out it isn’t. It just seemed like a natural fit. A chance for that city-county cooperation I’ve heard everyone wants.

Corbett said the council hadn’t been approached on the bond issue. But he said Supervisor Brent Oleson had asked the council for a resolution opposing another ballot measure that would shrink the Board of Supervisors from five to three members.

“He wanted us to, you know, pass a resolution in favor of the five. But we declined to take that up,” Corbett said. “Really, it’s a county issue. We prefer to have them stay out of our business. We try to stay out of theirs.”

The message seems pretty clear. The rousing Kumbaya singalong has been delayed.

“Personally, when I was at the Chamber of Commerce, I floated the idea of merging Cedar Rapids and county government. That never made it to first base,” Corbett said.

If all three supervisors are from Cedar Rapids, why bother?

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Oleson said he did ask for a five-to-three resolution. But he said backers of the bond issue are focusing more on public education than securing endorsements from elected leaders.

“It certainly would benefit them,” Oleson said of city leaders. “You’d think they’d be supportive without being asked.”

This is a very familiar dance.

At times, the city and county play together just fine. Just look at Rollic, the striking sculpture in the city’s Greene Square, which was purchased by the county.

Then there are other times. County and city officials can list all the moments when they were slighted, dissed or disappointed, all the times “they” didn’t pass a resolution supporting what “we” wanted. It’s all very hard to get over.

But this bond campaign seems like a prime moment for some collaborative thinking across jurisdictions. Water quality issues don’t respect political boundaries. Trail systems aren’t useful if they’re not fully connected across limits and lines. Parks draw users from all communities. These bonds could be a key source of funding to address regional environmental issues. The region should be taking notice, not minding its own business.

Or we can use the old model, and demand to know what’s in it for us. Where’s the list? Where’s my project? How much do I get? Not enough? Forget it.

I’m expecting the latter. But I’m keeping Kumbaya at the ready, just in case.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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