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

City Hall hopes to quicken pace of buyouts with expected infusion of federal disaster relief

In City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser on January 14, 2009 at 1:44 pm

CEDAR RAPIDS – City Hall is working to buy out flood-damaged property more quickly than it has thought possible, City Manager Jim Prosser reports.

The city’s hope for an accelerated ability to buy out property – it has notified to date nearly 750 property owners of the city’s intent to do that someday if money is available — comes as the City Council anticipates a huge new infusion of federal Community Development Block Grant money, perhaps as much as $200 million, Prosser said this week.

At the same time, Prosser stopped short of promises. Buying out property more quickly will happen once money gets here, and as importantly, if the city succeeds in securing some waivers and exceptions to rules that come with funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city manager said.

The City Council has made it clear, Prosser said, that it does not want to have the city wait eight to 10 years for the hundreds and hundreds of properties too damaged to repair to sit in place, unoccupied.

“I don’t want to get people’s hopes up,” the city manager said. “But we are working to get it (the funding) qualified.”

Prosser’s comments on Tuesday preceded a routine vote by the City Council Wednesday night to approve the city’s formal request for federal Flood Mitigation Grant funds to purchase up to 192 properties with a pre-flood value of $19 million.

The council announced its intention in December to buy out those properties, which sit in a proposed “greenway” between the Cedar River and the proposed new system of levees and flood walls expected to be built in the future.

The majority of that funding will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with 10 percent coming from the state of Iowa. The state has set aside federal Community Development Block Grant funds to pay the city’s 15 percent share of the buyout costs, Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator, said Wednesday.

Pratt noted that the owners of only 130 of the 192 properties in the proposed greenway have agreed to the voluntary buyout program. Pratt said 11 of the 192 have told the city they don’t want to agree to a buyout now and the 51 other owners have yet to contact the city about the program.

A second group of property owners — the owners of the 554 flood-damaged properties that sit in what likely will be the construction area needed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build levees and flood walls — could wait five or more years for buyouts.

City Manager Prosser said the hope is accelerate the purchase of those properties, too, with the use of expected Community Development Block Grant funds. One thought is that CDBG money spent now on those purchases  would be credited against the city’s requirement to fund a piece of the proposed flood control system. City consultants have said that system could cost $1 billion. 

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