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

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.

  1. Thank goodness the State didn’t give Cedar Rapids the go ahead to raise yet more taxes. This Coucnil has clearly shown it loves to spend taxpayer’s money on questionable items. There isn’t a tax or fee that this Coucnil doesn’t like. Tax, tax …….

  2. In the article it mentioned there was “backing, according to City Hall, from the city’s major private employers”. I’m a little confused what City Hall means by “backing”. Are these conversations available for public review? It appears that City Hall and “major private employers” have a rather cozy relationship. Is this perception correct and if it is does this concern anyone?

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