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

An unusual event: Recent state legislator Staed and even Downtown District’s Dusek stand up in public and praise City Council

In City Hall, Floods on February 25, 2009 at 8:30 am

Recent state legislator Art Staed of Cedar Rapids stood out in a crowd the other night for saying a seldom heard thing: That the mayor and City Council have been doing a great job.

It seems worth noting, because at events where the public gets a chance to speak –- week in, week out at City Council meetings, for instance -– the sentiment often is that the council and mayor are a bunch of bums.

“I don’t know where you’ve been,” Staed told a crowd of about 100 who had turned out Monday evening at a forum sponsored by The Gazette on the local-option sales tax.

He said the mayor and council had been “working their tails off for this city” ever since the flood eight months ago.

Staed had sat on his hands for a time, listening to others in the crowd beat up on City Hall and say they didn’t trust the City Council to spend the $18 million or so in the city’s share of annual sales-tax revenue responsibly.

Then he popped up to speak.

Staed said he couldn’t understand how people could show up at a public forum and essentially call elected city leaders a bunch of “liars.”

He said it was vital for the city to pass the sales tax to show the federal and state governments that the city is “doing something for ourselves.”

One suggestion had been that getting the Iowa Legislature to pass an income-tax surcharge for cities like school district can do would make for a less-regressive tax than a sales tax.

“That’s crazy, sitting around waiting for the Iowa Legislature to pass an income tax (surcharge),” Staed said.

Earlier at the forum, Peter Fisher, a University of Iowa professor or urban and regional planning and a researcher for the liberal Iowa Public Policy Project, said the regressive feature of the sales tax is really erased in the Cedar Rapids instance because so much of the tax is targeted for flood-damaged homes, nearly all of which had been owned by those with modest incomes. The tax also will go directly to creating jobs to renovate and replace the housing, Fisher said.

Fisher said he didn’t think the Iowa Legislature was likely to pass the income tax surcharge.

After Staed sat down the other night, Jon Dusek, president of Armstrong Development Co. and board member of the Downtown District, got up and agreed that the City Council had been working hard. At the same time, Dusek noted that he had sent the council a recent letter urging them not to raise property taxes by 14 percent as the city manager’s preliminary budget had proposed. The council has since sent the budget back for fixing.

Jeff Schott, former long-time Marion city manager and now program director at the University of Iowa’s Institute of Public Affairs, joined Fisher and others on the Monday evening panel. Schott noted that many Iowa cities have turned to a local-option sales tax because of a lack of ways to raise revenue other than property taxes.

The Gazette’s forum on the local-option sales tax issue brought out a nice crowd of 100 or so on a cold Monday night.

Those in attendance included people who see the tax as vital to help in the city of Cedar Rapids’ flood recovery and those who hate the tax.

Every jurisdiction in the county is voting on the tax on March 3 except four of them that already have the tax in place: Bertram, Central City, Coggon and Prairieburg.

Monday’s event actually was held over the Cedar Rapids border in Marion, though all the questions were about Cedar Rapids.

The crowd was sufficiently diverse that it drew healthy applause at some points from the tax haters and from the tax supporters.

  1. you left something out, Art also said sometimes we should just close our eyes and trust our elected leaders…. and they cant always listen to their constituents…. which is ironic considering Arts current job status.. LOL

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