The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Archive for May 6th, 2008|Daily archive page

City Hall at the Statehouse: yes on riverfront funds, no on revenue diversification

In Brian Fagan, City Hall on May 6, 2008 at 3:34 am

City leaders lobbied state lawmakers hard on two issues in the legislative session just ended late last month.

There was one huge victory for the effort and one quiet defeat.

The defeat came in the rejection of a proposal that would have given a small group of cities, most of them larger cities, the ability to experiment with an assortment of different ways to raise revenue other than the one that cities now must depend on — property taxes.

The need to diversify sources of revenue has been an oft-repeated theme at City Hall in Cedar Rapids for a year or more.

Council member Brian Fagan on Monday conceded that the revenue-diversification effort did not win support after it had been introduced in the latter part of this year’s legislative session.

Fagan, though, said introducing the idea made sense, and the dividends may come later.

It is no secret that many state lawmakers have talked for some years now about reducing the burden of property taxes, particularly on the state’s commercial and industrial property owners.

The Cedar Rapids City Hall-promoted idea of revenue diversification would have reduced property taxes on those property owners, in part, by increasing fees on those who use city services — out-of-towners and non-profit groups — but don’t pay property taxes.

The idea, Fagan said, was to start the conversation, which now has happened.

Floating the idea, he added, gave backers of the proposal an idea of who is against it, who wants to know more about it and who is for it.

“In terms of that, it was a good effort,” he said.

But the focus of Fagan and other local leaders now is on the good news for Cedar Rapids that city leaders here fought hard to secure from the Iowa Legislature.

That news comes in the form of a new $42-million pot of money for Riverfront Enhancement. And a plan in Cedar Rapids for riverfront redevelopment, which features a RiverWalk, an amphitheater and other amenities, is expected to be a strong candidate for a chunk of the new cash.

The state’s Vision Iowa Board will analyze community applications and dispense the money, and on Monday, Lu Barron, Linn County supervisor, noted that city and county staff members already have readied the community’s application for money from the Vision Iowa Board.

There are both new state funds for RECAT — Riverfront Enhancement Community Attraction and Tourism — and new funds for the longstanding program called Community Attraction and Tourism or CAT.

It’s no secret that the Vision Iowa Board and the city of Cedar Rapids have had some history together.

The state board at one point awarded the city $10.5 million in Vision Iowa funds – intended to support large projects — for a redevelopment project called RiverRun. The award was contingent on a local-option sales tax to support the project, but voters rejected the tax.

Subsequently, the Vision Iowa Board required the city to reapply for money after RiverRun was scaled back into something called Cedar Bend. Cedar Bend won a $5-million Vision Iowa award, a sum the city gave back when the new City Council in the city’s new form of government in 2006 decided it didn’t have an interest in or money for Cedar Bend.

Different today as the community approaches the Vision Iowa Board anew are three things: some fresh new local leadership; a commitment by the City Council to spend some money; and the backing, according to City Hall, from the city’s major private employers.

In the past, some local Cedar Rapids projects have successfully competed for CAT funds dispensed by the state board even if the city’s success for larger Vision Iowa funds did not work out.

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City Hall Used Cars brings in $20,072 on 10 vehicles, tires; more vehicles up for grabs via online bidding

In City Hall on May 6, 2008 at 1:46 am

City Hall Used Cars has unloaded 10 vehicles and some tires on its online lot at GovDeals.com.

A new round of bidding is open on a second line of 15 used city Public Works Department vehicles — dump trucks, cars, pickups and tractors — at Alliant Energy’s online auction site, http://alliantenergy.auctionanything.com/

In the GovDeals.com auction which ended Monday on the last of 10 vehicles, 188 bidders competed, coaxing the prices up on a stable of well-worn city vehicles.

Three of the 10 vehicles once patrolled city streets as police squad cars. The three, all Ford Crown Victorias, attracted 11, 31 and 39 bids respectively, with the winning bids at the close last Friday at $1,600, $4,950 and $5,226 respectively. All three cars, one a 2003 model and two, 2005 models, had logged 80,000-plus miles.

Among the other vehicles being battled over was a 2001 pickup with animal cages on the back that had helped the city’s Animal Control operation chase down stray and troublesome animals. Forty-one bidders pushed the bid on the truck to $2,300 at the close.

Twenty-five bidders also fought over a 1998 Ford Escort with 58,052 miles that once had worked as a parking parking-meter enforcement vehicle. The bidders, however, got the bidding to just $1,041 when bidding closed. The promotion of the Escort worked only so well: “This vehicle starts, runs, (is) drivable.”

Judy Lehman, the city’s purchasing services manager, on Monday said the winning bidders on 10 vehicles and tires will pay a total of $20,072, $15,072 over what the city was willing to sell the items for.

Lehman said the online auction is much simpler and takes far less staff time than city auctions of yesteryear, in which bidders came out in person at an auction site and bid.