Staff Editorial

City-county cooperation is crucial on flood project

Water in the swollen Cedar River flows past the Linn County Courthouse and the Linn County Jail on May's Island in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. Crews placed about 4,500 feet of sand-filled Hesco barrier using 4,000 tons of sand to protect Linn County building in the flood zone, including the courthouse, jail, Juvenile Justice Center, The Linn County Sheriff's Office and the county Services building. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Water in the swollen Cedar River flows past the Linn County Courthouse and the Linn County Jail on May's Island in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. Crews placed about 4,500 feet of sand-filled Hesco barrier using 4,000 tons of sand to protect Linn County building in the flood zone, including the courthouse, jail, Juvenile Justice Center, The Linn County Sheriff's Office and the county Services building. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

It’s been a recurring theme around these parts for years. The city of Cedar Rapids and Linn County government need to improve their relationship and cooperate more. During campaign seasons, candidates for county and city offices often have vowed to strengthen ties.

Results have been mixed. And now, as The Gazette’s B.A. Morelli pointed out in a recent story, the stakes of functional cooperation are particularly high.

The city is pushing to complete a flood control system to protect its core neighborhoods, valuable commercial property and vital manufacturing industries. It’s a $750 million lift, requiring federal, state and city investments. The county, with several critical facilities on May’s Island and in harm’s way of flooding, likely will be asked to provide funding. It’s, arguably, the most important public works project in the city’s history this side of I-380.

A recurring complaint from county leaders is that the city crafts its plans for various projects and then, once those plans are completed, asks the county for funding. County officials say they would like to be more involved in planning, not just check-writing.

It’s a point well taken, and with the city facing at least a $70 million funding gap in its $750 million flood control system, it’s critical that they bring county leaders on board in a more substantive way. Perhaps a county supervisor could serve in some role on the city’s Flood Control System Committee. More briefings, information sharing and consultations would seem appropriate.

The city needs to win over supervisors, who will make the decision on whether or not to provide funding through bonding. That bond issuance will need to be approved in a countywide vote, which doesn’t stand a chance without strong county support. The city also needs to educate county residents upstream and downstream how the protection system will or won’t affect them.

By the same token, county leaders must acknowledge that city officials have done the heavy lifting when it comes to piecing together a flood protection plan and funding. They spent years securing hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal help. They’re raising property taxes to cover a sizable chunk of the project’s cost.

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County officials disgruntled with being the last-asked should realize that external forces out of the city’s control have shaped much of this saga. They’ve rolled with the punches, as well as more flooding, and now they’re looking for more help in making all those walls and levees a reality.

As Morelli mentioned, too often friction tied to “personalities, politics, communication and turf” have stymied cooperation. Our leaders can’t afford to let that happen this time. The future of Linn County’s largest city is at stake. Working together has to be more than a campaign promise.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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