Government

Cedar Rapids marks milestone in paying for flood protection

Property tax rate will increase for the first time in a decade

City Council member Martin Hoeger (from left), City Council member Scott Overland, City Council member Susie Weinacht, Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, City Council member Ann Poe, City Council member Ashley Vanorny, City Council member Dale Todd, and City Council member Scott Olson look on during a Cedar Rapids City Council meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
City Council member Martin Hoeger (from left), City Council member Scott Overland, City Council member Susie Weinacht, Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, City Council member Ann Poe, City Council member Ashley Vanorny, City Council member Dale Todd, and City Council member Scott Olson look on during a Cedar Rapids City Council meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Marking the first major step of a 10-year local financing plan for flood protection, city leaders Tuesday adopted a fiscal 2020 budget that calls for a tax rate increase.

The budget, which begins July 1, includes a 22-cent increase in the property tax levy, elevating it to $15.44 per $1,000 in taxable property value, which translates to an increase of $48 for a typical home worth $150,000. It’s the city’s first tax rate increase in a decade.

“By making the investments we make this year and the next nine or 10 years, going forward we are getting the flood system for the lowest cost possible,” City Council member Tyler Olson said.

The fiscal 2020 operating budget is $130.6 million, up $8.3 million or 6.8 percent, compared with $122.3 million in fiscal 2019. The overall budget is $567 million, up $51 million or about 10 percent from before.

The city is lobbying the state to extend the repayment period for bonds from 20 to 30 years. The city plans to issue bonds to pay for flood protection, which is projected to cost $750 million over 20 years.

The legislation remains in play. If it passes, the city could reduce the levy increase before issuing the bonds next spring, said Casey Drew, the city finance director. He previously estimated the longer payback period could allow reducing the rate increase to 14 cents per $1,000.

The $264 million, 10 year flood protection financing plan assumes annual tax increases to support the new bonds that would be issued each year. The city is required to provide local matching dollars for state and federal aid.

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Fiscal 2020 is expected to see $38 million spent on flood protection, including a segment around Quaker Oats and south of Czech Village.

Mayor Brad Hart noted that while the City Council approved the budget Tuesday with little discussion, members had been looking at the proposal “long and hard” for the past few months.

Council member Scott Olson credit staff for “responsible budgeting” and providing a budget document that is clear and accessible.

• The city is expected to add the equivalent of 20.88 full time positions, bringing the citywide total to the equivalent of 1,490 full time positions. The largest increase is expected to come in the police department, which plans to add 10 officers and an administrative position from proceeds of automated traffic cameras. The library is expected to add 4.32 positions and the sewer-stormwater division plans to add five.

• City utility rates will climb 5.1 percent, or about $57.72 annually for a typical residential customer.

• A $250,000 funding boost will restore Saturday hours at the westside Ladd Library. The Saturday hours, which were eliminated in 2016, would be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. under the new budget.

• The city plans to invest $44 million in street improvements; $2.6 million in downtown improvements, including new streetlights; $6.44 million in recreation trails; and $36.4 million in Eastern Iowa Airport improvements as part of an $181 million capital improvement budget.

• The city’s tax base is $11.7 billion, while taxable value is $6.8 billion.

• The new Cedar Rapids Tourism Office projects $1.2 million in expenses and $1.4 million in revenues in fiscal 2020.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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