Government

Cedar Rapids plan could solve shortfall in state aid for flood protection

State extended amount of time city can keep some sales tax revenue to pay for flood control

Components to concrete forms lean against a section of flood wall as construction continues on the flood wall along the
Components to concrete forms lean against a section of flood wall as construction continues on the flood wall along the east shore of the Cedar River to protect Quaker in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids has tapped into a state law to head off a growing shortfall in the funding blueprint for a $750 million flood control system before experiencing any disruptions to the 20-year effort.

The Iowa Flood Mitigation Board last month approved an extension to the number of years Cedar Rapids and Burlington can keep a portion of sales tax revenue to pay for flood control through the state’s growth reinvestment initiative in order to reach the amount awarded by the state last decade.

Cedar Rapids and Burlington are two of at least 10 Iowa communities participating in the program created after major flooding in 2008 wreaked havoc across the state, leaving communities scrambling for ways to afford protection for properties and residents.

“We didn’t get additional payments,” said Rob Davis, Cedar Rapids flood control manager. “We stretched the payments out to 22 years instead of 20 years.”

Davis noted Iowa law allows the payout timeline to be extended to reach the full amount awarded in the grant so long as the amount does not change.

In 2013, the Flood Mitigation Board awarded Cedar Rapids $269 million paid out over 20 years through sales tax revenues, roughly a third of the cost of the flood system that will provide seven miles of berms, walls, and pumps along the Cedar River when finished.

As the program ramped up to a $15 million annual distribution cap, the gap grew to $3 million to $4 million per year. Expansion of online shopping has been cited as among the reasons sales tax revenues have been short.

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Six years into the program, Cedar Rapids was already $9.1 million short. At that rate, by 2033, when the program was to end, state aid could have been $50 to $65 million less than what was awarded.

Burlington had been awarded $26.2 million paid out between 2016 and 2033 to construct flood control measures in its downtown Burlington, according to the city’s website.

Davis said if the shortfall trend continues, Cedar Rapids could go back to the flood board and seek to continue extending payments until they reach the $269 million amount.

Through the city’s new local funding strategy that should net $264 million through bonding over 10 years or fewer and federal aid that should fuel $117 million in flood control spending in five years, the city is speeding up its construction timeline and could be largely done before receiving the full state aid.

The city has not decided how to approach spending the state aid, but one possibility is borrowing against the promise of future state aid to pay for projects sooner.

Entering flood system construction season

Fiscal 2021, which begins July 1, is on track to be the busiest year for flood control spending with $45 million budgeted locally plus about $10 million in federal money through the Army Corps of Engineers. The local amount is up from $38 million in fiscal 2019, $19.4 million in fiscal 2018, and $28 million in fiscal 2017.

Upcoming work includes:

— Construction of the 16th Avenue SE rolling floodgate is expected to begin in March, with a specific start date to be determined later. The 16th Avenue Bridge will be closed during construction to vehicular, pedestrian, and cyclist traffic until this fall when the project is expected to be completed. Traffic will be detoured onto the 12th Avenue Bridge, including a lane of traffic devoted to cyclists.

— Construction of the levee at the Lot 44 parking lot near the African American Museum of Iowa scheduled to begin in May. The levee would stretch from near Ninth Avenue to 12th Avenue and will cause parking restrictions during construction.

— Construction of the McGrath Amphitheatre restroom and storage building tied into an adjacent flood wall and berm is scheduled to begin in 2020.

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— Work on a removable, stackable floodgate at Third Avenue SE could begin in 2020. The gate would be closed when river elevations reach approximately 22 feet.

— Two projects to add additional pumping capacity at the already operational pump stations at Lot 44 and Sinclair are expected to be completed in March.

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

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