Government

Council backs tax increases, bonding plan for permanent flood protection for Cedar Rapids

Plan would support multimillion-dollar project

Ducks cross the path just in front of where it is covered with water from the flooded Cedar River in Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Sep. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Ducks cross the path just in front of where it is covered with water from the flooded Cedar River in Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Sep. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A 10-year bonding plan to pay for permanent flood protection — built on the assumption of 22-cent annual property tax levy increases — gained unanimous approval from the Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday.

Each of the nine council members spoke in favor, saying why they believe the plan is important and why now is the time to begin local funding for an estimated $550 million — $750 million, taking into account inflation over 20 years — system of levees, walls, gates and pump stations to protect the east and west banks of the Cedar River.

“People are not going to invest in this community and continue to build buildings whether they are near the river or away from the river unless they feel confident we are going to have a strong core area,” Council member Scott Olson said. “Now we have a final plan. ... Now we just have to get it built, and hopefully build it sooner than later.”

The plan approved Tuesday doesn’t enact tax increases at this time, but it does lay the groundwork for future City Councils to issue $20 million in bonds each year starting in fiscal year 2020 through 2029 and an additional $8 million per year from fiscal 2022 to 2029. Under the plan, the council each year would have to approve a tax levy increase, with the first approval coming before the council in March 2019.

Mayor Brad Hart called the plan “fair and reasonable.”

The proposed annual property tax levy increase of 22 cents per $1,000 in property value could vary, more or less, depending on a number of unknown factors. Hart and others noted the burden on taxpayers could be lessened if property values grow faster than 2.5 percent a year or if other variables come to pass, such as additional financing from state or federal sources or if bonds can be repaid over 30 years instead of 20.

The current property levy rate for Cedar Rapids is $15.22 and hasn’t been increased in 10 years.

Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, said the city will never have a better lineup of outside investors in the system. With more than $100 million estimated in federal aid and $267 million in state aid, 40 cents of every dollar would come from non-local sources, he said. Construction costs will only rise and the risk of additional flooding is a recurring concern, he said.

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Al Pierson, who owns Pierson’s Flower Shop in the northwest quadrant’s Time Check neighborhood, which has been affected by flooding eight times since 2008, spoke in favor of the funding plan.

“It impacts everyone in the community,” Pierson said of flooding. “It scares people. Jobs are in jeopardy. Businesses are in jeopardy. The psyche of citizens is damaged. People are worried. ... I’m ready to step up. I will pay more taxes. The cost of the additional property taxes will be minuscule when the next big one comes.”

In other news:

• Council rejected a rezoning 1 acre of land — properties at 248 and 250 18th Street NW — from residential to commercial to expand the Johnson Avenue NW Hy-Vee to include a gas station kiosk.

The plan would have led to the demolition of three homes on 18th Street NW, berms and fencing to screen lights and noise, and an entrance on 18th Street.

Brandi Hensley, a neighbor of the property, spoke in opposition saying the gas station was not a good fit for the neighborhood setting, would add light and noise pollution, and would bring semis and congestion to the narrow street.

“Adding 70 additional vehicles during peak times doesn’t fit the street or neighborhood,” she said.

• Council backed rezoning of 72.3 acres east of 80th Street SW and north of 16th Avenue SW for a large-scale new development with homes, multiunit row houses and commercial space along the new Highway 100 corridor.

The project is an important one, council members said, because it could set the tone for future development along the Highway 100 extension, which still is being built.

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“We need to set the tone for that particular area, so these hub communities are going to be important to the future growth of Highway 100, and I want them to be great,” council member Ann Poe said.

“This will be the fastest growing area in the city as soon as Highway 100 opens, and this is just the start of many other pieces of properties that are owned by developers or are being looked at,” Olson said.

The property would be broken down to include 15 acres for single family homes, 25.5 acres for multifamily homes, 9.5 acres for commercial mixed-use space, 3.5 acres for stormwater management and 4.5 acres for green space.

The developer, BNKD Inc., envisions the development as being built over seven phases.

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

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