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

Archive for June 29th, 2009|Daily archive page

Some federal and state money flows, and the number and size of projects salivating in line grows

In City Hall on June 29, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Let the federal government show up with $182 million for a new federal courthouse here, and most recently, with $517 million for the state of Iowa in the latest round of flood-recovery funds, and you can get to thinking that the government trough is long and deep, the spigot always flowing.

Just today, for instance, the state’s new I-JOBS Board formally approved $45 million in economic-stimulus help to local projects: $5 million each for the Paramount Theatre, Public Works Building, library and downtown steam customers; $10 million for a new human services building; $10-million for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library; and $5 million for a new building for Options of Linn County.

There’s another $118.5 million in I-JOBS funds to compete for now, and more than 75 local projects are lining up for a piece of that action. But the list is so long, some of the projects so costly, it’s far from clear where all the money will ever come from. But it isn’t preventing local elected officials from dreaming.

Look at some of these huge projects on the plate:

It will cost an estimated $65-million to upgrade the U.S. Cellular Center and build a new convention center next door.

There are plans for a new $35-million Southside Crossing bridge over the Cedar River connecting C Street SW with Otis Road SE. The project also would elevate C Street SW over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

There’s also a $70-million Multigenerational Community Life Center, which would be part senior center, community center and recreation center. And a $20-million downtown parking ramp.

Then there is a new downtown public library, which could cost as much as $45 million or twice the amount the library board estimates it may see in flood-recovery money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The city is talking about building a $35-million Public Safety Training Center and, perhaps, a new City Hall-like Community Services Center, the price tag of which is unknown.

The city also is talking about a need for $1.7 million to purchase property to create a Courthouse Square in front of the new federal courthouse, foundation work of which is about to begin.

There is much more.

Talk to advocates for most of the projects, and they point to possible funding from the federal and state government.

To date, no City Council member has talked about how much local money they’d be willing to commit to do any of it.

One local funding source that often has been mentioned in years past for such construction projects is the local-option sales tax.

The city, though, has put the local tax in place for the next five years for housing issues related to flood recovery.

Earlier this year, the city successfully lobbied the Iowa Legislature to get permission to sell bonds without asking voters first if the money is used in disaster-relief projects. Voters have the ability to amass signatures on a petition equal to 20 percent of those who voted in the city in the last presidential election to force a citizen vote.