Government

Tax hike, more officers proposed in Cedar Rapids budget

City's proposed fiscal 2020 budget unveiled Tuesday night

The 16th Avenue, 12th Avenue CRANDIC rail bridge and 8th Avenue bridges cross the Cedar River, as seen from the top of Mount Trashmore on Tuesday, May 14, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The 16th Avenue, 12th Avenue CRANDIC rail bridge and 8th Avenue bridges cross the Cedar River, as seen from the top of Mount Trashmore on Tuesday, May 14, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A property tax hike to pay for flood protection and anticipated revenue from a reestablished traffic camera program to pay for 10 new police officers are highlights of a proposed Cedar Rapids fiscal 2020 budget unveiled Tuesday evening.

The budget, which broadly previews city spending priorities, would increase the municipal property tax rate for the first time in a decade to support a 10-year, $264 million borrowing plan to cover much of the local share of a $750 million flood control system.

“We all knew we were going to have to put a significant amount of investment in our flood control system,” Cedar Rapids council member Tyler Olson said earlier this week. “Because we are required by the state and federal dollars to provide a match — and also it just keeps getting more expensive the longer we wait — we decided that now is really the time to dig in.”

The property tax rate is proposed to increase 22 cents each year for 10 years, or possibly less than that if the state allows Cedar Rapids to extend the payback period for bond financing from 20 to 30 years.

State Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, is expected to introduce a bill in the Iowa Legislature to extend the repayment timeline, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said.

A property tax hike proposed in Cedar Rapids’ fiscal 2020 budget would translate to an increase of $48 for an $150,000 home. The 22-cent per $1,000 in property value tax increase would be responsible for $18 and the remaining $30 would be attributed to a change in the state property tax rollback. Last fall’s estimate of $18 more per year was made before the state releasing new property tax rollback figures, said Finance Director Casey Drew said.

If the City Council approves the budget next month, homeowners in the city would see the rate increase from $15.22 to $15.44 per $1,000 in taxable property value.

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The city’s proposed 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 city’s fiscal 2020 runs from July 1 to June 30, 2020. The overall budget is $567 million, up $51 million or about 10 percent from before.

The Police Department would be able to hire 10 officers and an administrator to process legal complaints from automated traffic camera tickets, thanks to an anticipated $4.7 million in revenue from reinstating Interstate 380 automated speed cameras and devoting revenue from three operating speed and red light cameras in town. The department has 214 sworn officers.

Police Chief Wayne Jerman said most of the new positions would be devoted to patrol “due to a 17-percent increase in calls for service in the last five years,” and two to the Police Community Action Team, increasing that unit to six officers.

The budget assumes the City Council will restart ticketing by cameras on I-380, but city officials have not yet said when this would happen. The cameras have been off since April 2017 amid lawsuits, of which the city has prevailed on most fronts, but there also are bills being considered in the Legislature that could ban or regulate the cameras.

The city delineated how the $4.7 million in traffic camera revenue would be spent, including $942,000 for new staffing, $1.7 million to GATSO USA, the Beverly, Mass. camera vendor and $2.1 million for “proactive policing,” a category including technology like security cameras in Greene Square, Redmond and other parks.

Council members generally responded favorably, although several urged resources be directed to specific items.

Council member Ashley Vanorny noted the importance of supporting the sidewalk master plan to fill in gaps; Dale Todd advocated addressing flooding on Grande Avenue SE; and Scott Olson advocated for homeless and affordable housing.

Among other highlights of the proposal:

• City utility rates would climb 5.1 percent, which would be about $57.72 annually for a typical residential customer.

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• A $250,000 funding boost would allow Saturday hours to be restored at the westside Ladd Library. The Saturday hours, which were eliminated in 2016, would be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on or shortly after July 1.

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

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

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