116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON — Various new projects are on the horizon in Solon thanks to a local-option sales tax expansion voters approved in November.
The city asked residents to expand use of the current local-option sales tax to include emergency and recreation facilities, as well as remove the 2025 expiration date on the tax.
The majority of voters — 75 percent — approved the tax expansion and extension. The change will take effect July 1.
City Administrator Cami Rasmussen said the biggest challenge ahead of the election was educating residents that it wasn’t an additional penny tax but instead an expansion of the tax already in place.
Residents first approved the 1 cent sales tax in 2014. Local-option sales tax revenue in Solon can be used toward street, water, sewer and stormwater improvements, as well as toward recreation activities.
The city has collected just over $3 million in local-option sales tax funds since 2015, Rasmussen said. The money has been used to support at least 10 projects, and there are at least three additional projects in the works.
Among the projects are a sidewalk section from Solon Middle School to the Solon Recreation and Nature Area; Highway 1 and Fifth Street traffic light; splash pad infrastructure; and Fox Ridge storm sewer improvements.
The main reason why voters were asked to consider the expansion was because of the city’s new fire station, Rasmussen said.
“We faced the derecho and the pandemic in 2020, and as the fundraising effort began to slow because of the economy, there was a real concern … construction costs are rising at such a pace that it’s going to diminish the value of the dollars that had been raised,” Rasmussen said.
The city broke ground in September on the $4.2 million firehouse. Rasmussen said $1.3 million in donations had been raised for the project as of mid-December. The remaining nearly $3 million will be paid through general obligation bonds, with the city responsible for $2 million.
The Solon Tri-Township Fire Department serves 112 square miles of Johnson County, including Solon. The city’s fire station was built in the 1950s and responded to about 50 calls each year. In 2019, the volunteer fire department answered more than 450 calls.
Rasmussen said the city wanted to get ahead of the construction costs, as well as the growth of the fire department and increase in residents. Solon grew by 48 percent in the past 10 years, according to the 2020 census — from 2,037 residents in 2010 to 3,018 residents in 2020.
Another emergency facility that the local-option sales tax funds now can be used toward is the satellite office the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is planning to open.
The satellite office would be a place for deputies to meet with the public, take reports, conduct interviews and follow up on calls for service. Deputies also would have a space to complete reports and paperwork.
Rasmussen said the satellite office will be at 223 S. Iowa St., which has had a number of uses over the years, including being the site of the former City Hall.
The building has had improvements made over the years, Rasmussen said, but it will need additional updates to accommodate the satellite office.
“We’re not quite at the gathering quote stage, but we’re close because we want to make sure we get this incorporated into the budget in January because it’s a priority for the council,” Rasmussen said.
The reason recreation was included in the expansion, Rasmussen said, is because the city has started preliminary discussions about building a gymnasium or recreation center.
Solon’s Community Center currently is housed in a former school building. Because of how old the building is, Rasmussen said, the utility bills are a challenge. The original part of the building was built in 1917.
“The school’s been very gracious to have a lease agreement with us that makes it affordable, but it’s not a sustainable long-term plan,” Rasmussen said.
As for the extension of the tax beyond 2025, Rasmussen said the city asked for it because the fire station bond is 15 years, and it’s unclear what a bond for a future recreation center will look like.
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