Setting the record straight

The Time Check neighborhood of Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The Time Check neighborhood of Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

So the mayor thinks my Sunday column was sensational.

“Todd Dorman likes to sensationalize issues from time to time,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said Monday on WMT’s “Bob Bruce Radio Experience”.

“Normally, he has some elements of fact and truth in his column. But this one is certainly off base,” the mayor said.

He’s talking about my Sunday piece, where I criticized the City Council for starting the painful process of buying properties to make way for west side flood protection by threatening to charge big water bills to those remaining residents.

Corbett talked about it, but I’m not sure he read it.

The mayor detailed the process the city is following to plan for flood protection, a vital public project I’ve long supported.

He talked about the need for a development moratorium in the flooded Time Check area to stop property owners from making major investments when buyouts are looming. I have no problem with that, and said so in the piece.

“Todd Dorman got this one wrong. It was not heavy handed or bulldozing. It was more of a gentle hand and respectful hand of city government,” Corbett said. Too bad those hands didn’t pick up a phone or send a letter about the moratorium to affected residents. They found out about it from reporters.

My biggest beef was with the notion that this handful of residents should be assessed the $60,000 it costs annually to provide safe water to the neighborhood. Corbett mentioned that cost, but sidestepped the assessment idea. He said hydrant flushing is needed because there’s too much chlorine. Actually, the problem is too little, according to city utilities spokeswoman Megan Murphy.

“I don’t think it’s wrong to point out the cost,” Corbett said. “It wasn’t mean or vicious or anything like that. They were just pointing out some facts.”

Pointing out facts is fine. But charging these folks thousands of dollars as part of some effort to speed their departure isn’t OK, or necessary in a city projected to collect $33 million from water customers this budget year.

It also seems odd when you consider that just two years ago, the city had a chance to create a new system of stormwater fees that would have better reflected the true cost of runoff while also providing incentives for stopping it. But industries, businesses and developers opposed that idea, so the city created new fees with no incentives for customers who take extra actions to curtail runoff.

What’s the cost of not encouraging those added steps to slow or stop stormwater? That’s a tough one, but I bet it’s more than $60,000 annually. And everybody pays, especially if you live downstream.

I simply think the success of the flood protection project could depend on treating these residents, who were allowed by the city to stay put, with compassion. I wasn’t aware that the golden rule now passes for sensational.

I’m glad the mayor is talking about a city government with gentle, respectful hands. But I’ll hold my applause until I see them in action.

l Staff Columnist Todd Dorman appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com.

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