It’s probably fair to say it couldn’t be otherwise. That is, a distrust of the City Council and City Hall in general.
After all, the city is trying to come back from a multibillion-dollar disaster in the middle of a near national depression in a nation that has seen dozens of other natural disasters in the last year. Everybody and his or her brother is competing for vital federal disaster money.
Making it all better yesterday just is an impossible task.
Even so, a level of distrust of City Hall has become quite apparent as residents in the city prepare for a March 3 vote on a 1-percent local option sales tax.
All the major players in the city are on board behind the tax, the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Hawkeye Labor Council, Downtown District, Next Generation Commission, the chairman of the Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp. and on and on.
There’s also a well-represented coalition of people and groups out campaigning for passage of the tax as something called Vote YES! For Our Neighbors.
The supporters see the tax as vital local help for the city’s flood recovery, and they passage as sending a vital signal to state and federal lawmakers that the city is doing all it can itself to contribute to flood recovery.
Nonetheless, the Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement of the sales tax came with a caveat: The Chamber insisted on the creation of a community oversight committee to guide how City Hall would spend the tax revenue. Vote YES! For Our Neighbors did, too.
The suggestion had the feel that, without such oversight, City Hall might not do the right thing and, without it, City Hall might actually louse up the tax’s chances for passage.
The City Council enthusiastically created such an oversight committee, which will be in place by April 1, when the tax begins to be collected if it is passed March 3.
But the distrust doesn’t end there.
Just this past week, representatives of Vote YES? For Our Neighbors spoke to The Gazette’s editorial board as they, no doubt, have been speaking to other groups around the community. The representatives said they still wanted more from the City Council. They wanted the council to pass a binding resolution that specifically promised that all the sales-tax revenue intended for flood relief would be spent for flood relief, and specifically for the purchase and rehabilitation of flood-damaged housing.
No matter, that the City Council’s voice was featured in a front-page story in The Gazette on Monday in which members promised to spend the revenue intended for flood relief on flood-damaged housing. No matter, that the council, member after member, declared the same thing at its meeting on Wednesday evening. No matter that the council-approved language on the March ballot pretty explicitly says as much.
A distrust expressed during the public comment period of the Wednesday council meeting prompted council member Justin Shields to anger. He said he couldn’t understand how the council could make its message any clearer.
That it needed to make it clearer became apparent on Friday when City Hall’s communications operation issued a press release based on the council’s Wednesday meeting with the headline “City Council Confirms Housing Buyouts & Rehab Priority.”
The news release pointed out the precise language the council on Feb. 3 approved for the March 3 ballot. It states that the tax revenue will be spent this way:
— 10 percent for property tax relief.
— 90 percent for the acquisition and rehabilitation of flood damaged housing caused by the flood of 2008, and matching funds for federal flood dollars to assist with flood recovery or flood protection.
Nonetheless, look for the council to create a council resolution next week that it can vote on anyway.
Interestingly, no one fought harder than council members to get a change in Iowa law so that the council could set a local-option sales tax vote in expedited fashion on March 3 and so that the tax could begin to be collected in expedited fashion on April 1. The special state legislation also does not tie Cedar Rapids’ vote to the block of metro cities, which is usually the case in local-option votes.