116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Name: Keith Rippy
Address: 1014 Second St. SE, Cedar Rapids
Seat seeking: District 3
Occupation: CEO, Area Ambulance Service
Educational background: Master's Degree in Management & Social Science; BA in Political Science
Why are you running for council?
Rippy: I have lived and worked in Cedar Rapids for the past 12 years. As the CEO of Area Ambulance I have seen how this community comes together in time of crisis during the floods of 2008 & 2016. Area Ambulance played a major role in responding to both events. In 2016 my home required sand bagging. Hundreds of people showed up to help. Most of whom I didn't even know. After that I began to think how I could best give back to the city that's been so good to me. I have participated in numerous committees throughout my time here but I decided that sitting on the city council would be a truly meaningful way to give back. My experience leading organizations and my 20 years in municipal government as a law enforcement officer are a good fit for a council position.
This is an exciting and challenging time to be in Cedar Rapids. Our recovery from the 2008 flood has been remarkable and the city's response to the 2016 flood equally extraordinary. I would like to be a part of the continued progress and momentum established by our current and past city council's.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Rippy: 1. Flood protection (and its funding): I support a local-option sales tax for flood protection, working with the state for more funds and keeping the door open with the federal government.
2. Infrastructure (streets & sewers): Paving for Progress is working well. I support continuing LOST to fund the program.
3. Neighborhood quality of life (public safety, affordable housing, schools): I support expanding community-based policing, maintaining our schools as integral components of our neighborhoods and working to build affordable housing throughout the city.
The city is facing some major revenue losses. The Iowa Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a lower court decision to turn off traffic cameras on I-380, which have generated more than $3 million per year for the city. Now, the state is threatening to do away with the backfill, which in Cedar Rapids is worth about $4 million per year. What is your plan to balance the budget if those losses come to fruition?
Rippy: It would be incumbent on the city council to attempt to identify alternate sources of revenue to replace some of these funds. They would also have to prioritize projects and programs. City departments would have to go through the same prioritization process. Losses of this size means that everything that's on the drawing board could not be accomplished. Some projects would have to be delayed or perhaps in some cases eliminated altogether.
Some big fish have expressed interest in opening shop in Iowa, including Amazon and Toyota and Apple recently announced plans to build in Waukee. What specifically would you do to put Cedar Rapids in the best position to land a major new company?
Rippy: We have a great story to tell. A joint committee to tell that story should be established to aggressively work to attract companies of this stature to Cedar Rapids. That committee would consist of representatives from the city council, city staff, economic alliance, business community, school district, Linn County, and the visitors bureau. A recruitment plan would be formulated to include potential incentives and clearly demonstrate our ability to partner with companies of this size.
There's very real possibility one of the area's largest employers, Rockwell Collins, could see its HQ leave Cedar Rapids. This would lead to a negative impact on jobs and philanthropy to local nonprofits. What would you do as an elected official to prevent this from happening or to minimize the impact?
Rippy: It seems United Technologies bought Rockwell for two reasons: first, its because Rockwell's book of business fills a gap that exists in United Technologies slate of services and second, they see that a merger provides some significant cost saving synergies within the corporate office. The harsh reality is Cedar Rapids is going to lose some of those jobs. The city council should focus its efforts on keeping the thousands of jobs that fill the previously mentioned gap (i.e. engineers, designers, manufacturing etc..). The best approach is regional in scope. Virtually every community in the corridor is affected. That strength must come to together and present a united front.
One of residents top complaints in road conditions. Now we are a few years into a 10 year, 1 cent local-option sales tax targeting street repairs. It's called Paving for Progress, and we've started to see streets improved, such as 42nd Street. What is your assessment of Paving for Progress? Is it working or isn't it? And, do you favor extending the LOST tax to continue the program?
Rippy: I believe the Paving for Progress initiative is working. Improvements can be seen throughout Cedar Rapids. I'm in favor of extending the tax to continue the program. Sales tax is the most equitable way to pay for these improvements because both residents and folks from out of town share in the cost when they use our streets while making purchases in Cedar Rapids.
Another frequent complaint from residents is the city's efforts to become more walkable and bikeable, notably building sidewalks in established neighborhoods and road work downtown which has included converting one way streets to two way streets, removing stop lights in favor of stop signs and adding bike lanes. Do you support these efforts and why? And would you do anything specifically to speed up or halt these initiatives?
Rippy: I support the efforts to make CR more biker/walker friendly and to change the traffic patterns and stop lights. I think the city has made excellent progress and would support there current timeline.
Cedar Rapids is some $200 million short of the money needed to build a flood protection system. Elected officials and city staff have tried a variety of methods to shake loose federal money for flood protection. They've lobbied local congressmen and senators, lobbied in Washington, D.C., worked with the Army Corps, and pushed unsuccessfully for a local sales tax increase for flood protection. What would you do differently to get federal aid for flood protection? What if any back up plan do you have to fill the funding gap?
Rippy: I believe the city has done as much as they can to get more federal dollars. These funds are simply are not forthcoming. The city should keep the door open but to expect any more money for the next several years is simply unrealistic. There are some state funds that may be available and the council should make every effort to loosen up those dollars. However, residents of CR must come to accept the fact that we will have to pay our on way. I support a multiyear local option sale tax to help cover some of the remaining millions necessary to complete the project.
Last year and earlier this year, the City Council faced a difficult decision when Commonbond Communities wanted to build an affordable/homeless housing complex called Crestwood Ridge Apartments in a northwest neighborhood that vehemently opposed the project. While several neighbors pointed to concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff, others said that type of project would bring down property values and could introduce questionable people into the neighborhood. City Council members were torn about whether to side with the electorate or endorse a project many acknowledged was needed in the community. How would you have voted and why?
Rippy: I would have voted in support of the project. Unfortunately there are many incorrect perceptions and stereotypes about affordable housing. The only way to combat those inaccuracies is with facts. From both personal and professional experience affordable housing does not attract crime or deteriorate neighborhoods. Quite the opposite is true.
Cedar Rapids has leaned heavily in recent years on Tax Increment Financing to incentivize development with programs for downtown development, job creation, restoring brownfields and grayfields, historic restoration, sustainable improvement, community benefit, and urban housing. Virtually every high profile development has included some form of public subsidy. As one example, the city is proposing a $20.5 million public subsidy for a 28 story, $103 million downtown high rise with a grocery store and hotel called One Park Place. Is this the right approach? Is it too generous? Please explain.
Rippy: Attracting business to any city is extremely competitive. In order to be successful we must provide incentives to locate in CR. The benefit to the economy, job creation etc. far outweighs the cost. In the case of One Park Place I would have stayed with a local developer's proposal who could demonstrate the ability to fund the project from the outset.
Following a series of shootings involving teens, a joint task force of city, school, police and community leaders joined forced to develop a plan called Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities. City staff and council have said they will work to implement the plan although some have questioned the level of commitment and progress and whether the city should bring in outside help. What do you think of the city's progress on the SET program and what approaches would you advocate to address youth and gun violence?
Rippy: I believe the commitment is there but progress has been slow. I am a proponent of community-based policing as an integral piece of a successful plan. As a council person I would support providing the police department with additional resources to expand the program.
Are there any other issues you believe are critical for voters to know?
Rippy: As I have been knocking on doors I've learned that many citizens feel disconnected from their city council. As a council person I would meet quarterly with residents through their neighborhood associations and conduct a semiannual meeting in a central location in my district. In addition, I believe the city council should hold some of their meetings in various locations throughout CR. Meetings held at city hall exclusively make it difficult for many people to attend.