116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — If Cedar Rapids City Hall has its way, metro area voters this November will extend the city’s Paving for Progress street repair program another 10 years.
Several mayors of communities in the Linn County metro area announced Wednesday that voters should expect to face the question on the Nov. 2 ballot of whether to extend the 1-cent local-option sales tax that currently is used to help fund infrastructure projects and other initiatives in the area.
For Cedar Rapids, an extension would infuse extra sales tax revenue into the city to continue to solely to be used until 2034 for street repairs — funds that Mayor Brad Hart said would allow the city to better plan work and take on more projects.
“We’re anxious to put this on the ballot and we’re going to encourage everyone to vote yes on Nov. 2,” Hart said.
Contiguous cities vote as a block on sales-tax questions, so in addition to Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Robins and Fairfax also will vote in November. Elected officials in those municipalities decide how their communities will use the revenue. Voters in unincorporated Linn County also will vote on the sales tax question.
A simple majority of voters in those metro area cities collectively is required to pass the measure, said Rebecca Stonawski, the Linn County deputy elections commissioner. Rural residents or non-contiguous Linn County cities can decide their outcomes independently.
This move puts the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot along with local races, including the mayoral race in Cedar Rapids, as well as school board seats.
LOST collections for Cedar Rapids streets began July 1, 2014, and will expire June 30, 2024, unless voters opt to extend the existing tax. The program has funded the complete reconstruction of roads such as 42nd Street NE, 19th Street SE and O Avenue NW. It also maintains and repairs roads to extend their life, and that preventive work has been done on streets including Glass Road NE, Edgewood Road NW, Bever Avenue SE and Diagonal Drive SW.
To date, Cedar Rapids has taken in more than $135 million in tax revenue and spent nearly $123 million of the available funds. Officials estimate the tax will generate more than $200 million by the time collection currently is slated to expire, or about $18 million annually.
All said, the program so far has resulted in the reconstruction or rehabilitation of approximately 66 linear miles of roadway in Cedar Rapids, Hart said, with about 70 percent of projects being on residential streets and 30 percent on arterial roads. Cedar Rapids estimates that every $1 spent on maintenance eliminates or delays spending $6 to $10 in total street replacement.
“Extending the sales tax will dramatically increase the likelihood that we get to your street over the next many years, so we’re eager to be ready to continue with scheduling, planning for our street repairs in Cedar Rapids,” Hart said.
Former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, the business retention and expansion strategist with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said good streets and infrastructure and an efficient transportation system are key to efforts to recruit businesses.
“Communities that focus on their infrastructure and improving their infrastructure are going to win when it comes to economic development and jobs,” said Corbett, who championed the LOST vote in 2013 as mayor.
Communities in the coming weeks will finalize ballot language, Corbett said. The campaign committees spearheading the effort to get the measure passed in the metro cities will be announced in the coming weeks.
Hart said former City Council member Ralph Russell, a retired civil engineering contractor and consultant with HR Green engineers, will head the vote-yes committee.
Although the measure passed in 2013, about 62 to 38 percent, its extension is not guaranteed. Voters in the metro cities turned down a sales tax extension in May 2011 and March 2012 before passing the LOST in its current form.
In the run up to the 2013 vote, the Fix the Streets Committee raised about $113,390, most of which came from local contractors and professional services companies in the construction business. Opponents Get the Facts CR raised about $1,921, according to reports filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board through January 2014.
Hart, who is seeking reelection as mayor while advocating for the tax extension, told The Gazette he is hopeful voters will support continued LOST collections because they can see the street work being done around town and the city regularly shares updates on its progress.
Residents consistently identify street repairs as the top issue facing Cedar Rapids in city surveys, he noted, so the extension is key to enabling the city to address those concerns. About 30 percent of city road users are from outside Cedar Rapids, Hart said, so this is a way to tax motorists from outside the community who use the streets, in addition to residents.
Approval would help assure city officials that the funding will exist to proceed with the next phase of projects and do work that otherwise might go undone, he said.
“It’s just having a steady revenue source where we can say we can do this project now because we’re going to have funding to finish it,” Hart said.
With Paving for Progress, Hart said the city has relied less on general obligation bonds to fund road work. That means the city saves on the interest costs that come with bonding, freeing up the city to take on debt for other things like flood recovery while maintaining a high bond rating.
“We can do more projects and borrow a lot less with the sales tax,” Hart said.
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