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City Hall kindness has not always been easy to find for neighboring jurisdictions that dump on sales tax

In City Hall, Marion, Mayor Kay Halloran on March 7, 2009 at 8:08 am

City Hall kindness is new found when it comes to jurisdictions whose voters dump on local-option tax.

On Friday, Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran was out counting noses, trying to find a majority on her nine-member council to pass a resolution, oddly, for the city of Marion.

Halloran got the votes, and as a result, the city of Marion will get a second bite at the local-option sales tax apple.

Marion city officials had lobbied Halloran and other Cedar Rapids City Council members after voters in Marion turned down the local-option sales tax on Tuesday along with the cities of Hiawatha, Robins, Center Point and the Linn County portion of Walford.

At the same time, Cedar Rapids easily passed the tax, the revenue from which it will use primarily for flood relief over the next five years and three months.

Marion stood to take in about $3 million a year during the life of the tax, which is an amount city leaders in Marion weren’t reluctant to easily turn their backs on. Particularly when the measure was defeated by 183 votes out of 4,271 cast.

The Cedar Rapids council is in the middle of the affairs of its neighboring communities because of the demands of state’s local-option sales tax law. That law, as applied to Linn County, creates only two ways to get the question of a local-option sales tax on the ballot: the Cedar Rapids City Council, which represents a majority of residents in Linn County, must do it; or proponents of the tax can amass signatures on a petition that number at least 5 percent of the total who voted in the last general election.

Halloran said the decision was an easy call for her, and she pointed to the first days after the June flood when the city of Marion stepped in and provided public-safety dispatching services for Cedar Rapids.

“So the idea is, as a matter of comity and neighborliness, they help us when we need help, and we’ll help when they need help,” the mayor said.

It was quite a different story, though, back in 2001 when Cedar Rapids and nearly every jurisdiction in the county put the local-option sales tax in place, but unincorporated Linn County rejected the matter and stood to lose about $4 million a year.

No sooner had the election office closed down on election night and the county’s Farm Bureau members and the Linn County Board of Supervisors were on the phone to Cedar Rapids City Hall, hat in hand, asking the council to put the measure up for a revote out in the county.

The Cedar Rapids City Hall has three words for the request: Get some signatures.

“Calling for a vote without a petition drive would be a departure from previous practice of the Cedar Rapids council,” the City Council said back then. The council noted that the city’s 2001 vote on the sales tax for swimming pools was supported by a petition of 5,188 signatures and that an election the previous on a minor-league baseball stadium levy was backed by 3,361 signatures before the council put the matters on the ballot.

Then-Parks Commissioner Dale Todd was the most outspoken of the City Council members back then. Who was he, Todd asked, to decide that rural residents really didn’t mean to reject the tax when they voted that way Tuesday?

Then-Mayor Lee Clancey stressed the City Council’s tradition of asking for petitions from those interested in putting an issue on the ballot.

Clearly, her preference was that any revote come from a petition drive with a sufficient number of signatures to prompt a vote without the City Council’s help.

“The citizens in rural Linn County had an opportunity to vote on this two days ago,” Clancey said. “If there is strong sentiment among the citizens of Linn County that they would like to have this revote, I think it might be an appropriate way to go to have a petition.

“Then at least we would have a feeling for what folks really would like to do. The only thing we have right now is the majority of them declined the option tax.”

Within a few days, the Farm Bureau had rounded up 10,131 county residents, more than twice the number needed to put the measure back on the ballot. Voters in unincorporated Linn, Walker and Walford then returned to the polls and passed the tax.

On Friday, Marion city officials said what was said eight years ago: Marion voters didn’t understand the complicated, quirky tax.

Lon Pluckhahn, Marion’s city manager, said on Friday that Marion council members likely would not have requested a new vote if they and he hadn’t received many calls from citizens who said they had not understood the Tuesday vote.

“I’m glad to see it,” Pluckhahn said of the Cedar Rapids council decision to clear the way for another sales-tax vote. “We’ve worked hard to improve relations between the two cities.”

He noted an e-mail from one Cedar Rapids council member who said he would not have wanted to have to get Marion’s permission if Cedar Rapids wanted a new vote.

A few words in new law on local-option sales tax hurt unincorporated Linn, help Marion, change little for Cedar Rapids

In City Hall, Linn County government, Marion on February 23, 2009 at 2:50 pm

There is a small, little-noticed line in a special piece of state legislation, legislation that has permitted a fast track to the March 3 vote on a 1-percent local-option sales tax.

Should the sales tax pass throughout the county, that line in the new law will have a notable, negative dollar impact on the Linn County Board of Supervisors and the unincorporated area of Linn County for which it is responsible. And at the same time, the law change will have a nice positive impact for the city of Marion.

Other jurisdictions in the county will notice little difference.

The reason for the notable change in expected sales-tax revenue for the Linn supervisors and the city of Marion is a change in the data used in the formula dictating how the tax is dispensed within a county.

The formula is based on two things: each jurisdiction’s percentage of total property-tax revenue in the county and each jurisdiction’s percentage of total population in the county. One quarter of the weight of the formula is given to the former, three quarters to the latter.

State law has based the property-tax revenue on taxes collected in the years from 1983-1985. Every local-option sales tax in the state – only six county seat cities don’t have the tax — has its distribution formula based on that three-year period in the 1980s.

However, that three-year period of property-tax revenue was changed to 2005-2007 in the recent special legislation, steered through the Statehouse by Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.

Hogg on Monday said the intent of changing the years in the formula was to accurately reflect how communities have developed in the last 25 years.

In Linn County, what changed between 1983-85 and 2005-07 is that the metro-area cities have grown into parts of what had been unincorporated Linn County, and as a result, the relative property-tax revenue has shifted a bit to the city from the country.

This is why unincorporated Linn County fares less well in the new computation of the distribution formula and why fast-growing Marion has fared better.

The 1-percent local-option sales tax is expected to bring in about $30 million a year in all of Linn County if every jurisdiction in the county passes the tax on March 3.

If that happens, the Linn County Board of Supervisors and unincorporated Linn County will receive an estimated $4,899,000 a year. However, that is an amount $483,000 a year less than it would have been under the formula’s old computation. In total, that’s $2,535,750 less over the course of five years and three months. In that time, the tax will raise $25,719,750 for the unincorporated area of the county.

For Marion, the change will be in the other direction. Over five years and three months, the tax is expected to bring in $19,719,000 for Marion, an amount that is $306,000 a year more or $1,606,500 more over the life of the tax than it would have been using the earlier property-tax years in the distribution formula.

The city of Cedar Rapids now will receive 59.9 percent of the tax revenue – about $18 million — in the new formula and it would have received 59.79 percent if the 1980s property-tax revenue had been used.

With the new formula, unincorporated Linn County will receive 16.33 percent of the tax revenue, but it would have received 17.94 percent using the 1980s property-tax revenue figures, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Marion now will obtain 12.52 percent of the revenue, up from 11.5 percent under the old formula while Hiawatha will get 3.04 percent up from 2.74 percent.

SEE this chart to see how each Linn jurisdiction will fare now and each would have fared under the old arrangement.

Sen. Hogg said the city of Coralville, in particular, pushed for the change of the years used in the formula as a way to take into account the changes in development in the last 25 years. Johnson County jurisdictions vote on a sales tax in May.

Nice marks for Cedar Valley Humane Society overshadowed by Marion police probe; probe done; criminal charges recommended

In Humane Society, Marion on June 3, 2008 at 11:09 pm

The Cedar Valley Humane Society on Tuesday reported good marks from both the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Department on the performance of the Humane Society’s animal shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd.

However, on Wednesday, Linn County Attorney Harold Denton confirmed that the Marion Police Department investigation into billing irregularities at the animal shelter is complete. Denton said the  Marion findings are now in his hands for review and the possible filing of criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Marion Police Chief Harry Daugherty on Wednesday reported that his investigators are recommending that Denton file felony theft charges against the management person at the animal shelter who has been responsible for billing. He did not name a name. “Somebody done there is responsible,” the chief said. He added that the Humane Society’s board of directors has been apprised of the status of the police investigation.

It was back in April that the Humane Society’s board of directors asked both the state and city agencies to take a look at its shelter operation following on the heels of a Marion Police Department raid in March in which investigators seized the shelter’s billing records.

In addition to the police raid, a former shelter employee filed a complaint with the state veterinary board, raising questions about the shelter’s treatment of animals. The former employee also alleged that the shelter was a “hostile workplace.”

According to Humane Society board member and spokeswoman Stephanie Holub, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship conducted a random animal welfare inspection at the shelter on May 20.

“All findings in the report were positive, including the condition of the housing facilities, premises, sanitation, veterinary care and records,” Holub reported.

A look at the state department’s report on Wednesday revealed as much. The state inspector gave appoval ratings on all 36 different items it reviewed at the shelter.

The Humane Society’s Holub said Michelle McMurray, an investigator with the city of Cedar Rapids’ Civil Rights Department, also conducted a review of the shelter and filed a report in May.

Holub quoted McMurray’s report: “It appears that the staff commitment to animals and the facilities’ customers is unwavering. There were no reported issues amongst staff members. … It is evident that the staff has a commitment to the animals and their jobs. Staff members appear to work well as a team.”

Holub noted that Doug Fuller, a Humane Society board member and retired Cedar Rapids police detective, continues to serve in an informal leadership role at the shelter. He is providing daily oversight of record-keeping, billing and personnel and volunteer activities, Holub said.

The board of directors has concluded it no longer needs an additional independent consultant to help with the shelter’s management, she said.

City Hall trots out street-design ideas to metro planning group; it’s not like singing to the choir

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Marion, Monica Vernon on May 16, 2008 at 2:13 am

The Linn County Regional Planning Commission has had a new name for some months now, Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization.

It’s comprised of representatives, many of them elected officials, from Cedar Rapids, Marion, Linn County, Hiawatha, Robins and a few smaller communities, with the city of Cedar Rapids having the most votes.

One of its primary roles is to prioritize road projects in the metro area that are deserving of certain federal and state dollars.

At its meeting on Thursday, it seemed like a nice place for Brian Fagan, the group’s chairman and a Cedar Rapids City Council member, to trot out two ideas that have gained some traction among Fagan and most of his council colleagues, but haven’t really been road tested.

The two ideas really are two pieces of the same central idea, which is don’t just lay bigger, wider stretches of concrete or asphalt without consideration for the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit and beautification. One piece is called “complete streets;” the other, Context Sensitive Solutions or Context Sensitive Design.”

At one recent Cedar Rapids City Council meeting, council member Monica Vernon, who shares Fagan’s advocacy for the ideas, at one point wasn’t sure she routinely favored turn lanes in future projects. This prompted council colleague Justin Shields, who represents a west-side council district, to sheepishly tell Vernon that the westside still liked turn lanes.

At Thursday’s Corridor MPO meeting, Fagan was leading the discussion on the complete-streets idea with the goal being for the planning group to develop a policy on using it and the context-design idea. Other planning groups and state departments of transportation suggest that such policies include the ability to make exceptions once the project cost is driven up, say by 20 percent, by the need to have, not just a street, but a complete street or a street with context sensitive design.

Well, it took no time at all for one of the Marion representatives on the planning board, Boyd Potter, to start scratching his head and wondering just what Fagan and the Cedar Rapids City Council might want the smaller Marion to sign on to.

Potter, a real estate broker, said the sound of the concepts was all well and good, but smaller cities with limited street-building funds often are looking to get “the most bang for the buck” in actually getting a street built.

Potter worried that any new design policy adopted by the Corridor board, which prioritizes street projects in the metro area for certain kinds of funding, might send a Marion project to the bottom of the list if Marion was unwilling to spend more to add some of the extras to a project.

Marion itself might not require of itself that it use sensitive-design approach, but funding for Marion projects funneled through the MPO might be held up if Marion didn’t sign on to the approach, Boyd said. He didn’t like that.

Hiawatha’s mayor, Tom Thies, said he was puzzled, too. Thies said what he knew of complete streets was that the approach most often was used in business districts, and not in streets throughout the city.

He noted that Hiawatha is opening its new  City Hall downtown, and has some street plans related to that. A discussion of complete streets might work there, he said. But he couldn’t imagine, for instance, building such a thing all the way to the western edge of the city.

If nothing else then, Thursday, Fagan and other Cedar Rapids City Hall advocates of complete streets and context design got to see what it’s like after kind of singing to the choir for months among most the Cedar Rapids City Council.

It should be noted that Fagan doesn’t seem so sure that building quality is necessarily more expensive, and he is pretty sure that building as much pavement for as little cost hurts a community in the long run.

For him, complete streets are about “connectivity” – figuring out a way to get people on foot, bikes, motor vehicles, buses, you name it, from one place like schools, neighborhoods, trails and commercial centers, to another. For him, context sensitive design is about paying attention to where “the built world engages with the natural world.”

And by way of another context: City Hall has just floated an idea its very early stages to expand First Avenue East beyond 19th Street East from five to seven lanes as the city was readying for its first election in its council/manager government back in 2005. Fagan and others now on the council mentioned their opposition to a seven-lane First Avenue East all the way to a seat on the City Council.

Just this week, too, an impatient Monica Vernon pushed Dave Elgin, the city’s public works director and city engineer, about just what complete-street features were being incorporated into the city’s plan to pave Wilson Avenue SW from Arlington Street to Stoney Point Road at a cost of $1 million. Elgin noted that the Wilson Avenue SW project had been in the shoot for some time and so did not use any formal complete-street process in its design. But he said features of the approach were used. The road, for now, will have a sidewalk on one side, Elgin noted.


Plans for city’s new animal shelter progressing; CR serving Marion during Humane Society shelter probe

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 22, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Police Sgt. Kent Choate, who oversees the city of Cedar Rapids’ animal control operation, reported this week that City Hall is moving ahead on its plans to move the city shelter from an old sewage treatment plant seven miles from downtown to a more centralized location.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options. There is no front-runner right now,” Choate said.

Among the options are empty big-box stores and other buildings closer to the center of the city. The seven-mile trip to the existing shelter on Old River Road SW just isn’t very efficient, Choate pointed out.

He noted, too, that the City Council has set aside $1.5 million in its capital improvement budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 for a new animal shelter.

Developments at the city’s animal shelter have taken a side seat in recent weeks to those at a second shelter in the metro area, the Cedar Valley Humane Society shelter.

In late March, the Marion Police Department raided the Humane Society shelter and seized billing records. The department continues to investigate possible overbilling.

In response, the Humane Society has appointed one of its volunteers to oversee the management of its shelter operation and has asked the Iowa Veterinary Board and the Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission to take a look at the shelter’s practices.

More recently, Jerry McGrane, Cedar Rapids council member, has wondered if the time might be right for the city to approach the Humane Society anew to see about joining forces on a combined animal shelter. Early efforts at that over the last year failed.

City Manager Jim Prosser told the council just last week that city staff was in the process of talking to the Humane Society again.

Choate this week, though, noted that the missions of the two groups are different. The city’s first mission is animal control, while the Humane Society’s first mission is not that, he said.

Choate noted that the city of Cedar Rapids is providing temporary animal control and shelter services to the city of Marion pending the Marion Police Department’s investigation into the Humane Society’s animal shelter.

Marion’s City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said it made sense for the city of Marion to turn to the city of Cedar Rapids for now until the probe of the Humane Society’s shelter is complete and its results known.

Pluckhahn did not rule out a future in which the city of Marion permanently contracted with the city of Cedar Rapids for animal control or shelter services. That’s not apt to happen, he suggested, if Cedar Rapids’ new shelter ended up being located far from the city of Marion as is the city’s current shelter. But if a spot in easy reach of Marion was chosen for the city’s new animal shelter site, that might allow Marion to take a look, Pluckhahn said.

The Humane Society’s shelter has been serving areas in Linn County outside of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Earlier this year, the Humane Society announced its own expansion plans.


Humane Society still awaits news on police raid; a third former employee seeks back compensation

In Humane Society, Marion on April 16, 2008 at 5:34 pm

A third former employee at the Cedar Valley Humane Society animal shelter has filed a lawsuit seeking compensation she says she was entitled to and was not paid.

The lawsuit by Nikole Ehrenberger is similar to ones filed in the last few months by two other former shelter employees, Sarah Young and Joy Jager.

Ehrenberger said she was dismissed by the shelter last summer.

She spoke along with a fourth former shelter employee, Tarah Young, Sarah Young’s twin sister.

Ehrenberger and the Young sisters, all 23 years old, remain in the animal care field, and all three would go back to the Humane Society shelter to work because caring for animals is their central concern.

Ehrenberger and Tarah Young, who also reported that she was dismissed from the shelter, say they could help make the Humane Society operation better than it was when they worked there.

The lawsuits are dwarfed by another Humane Society concern: The society’s board of directors continues to wait to see what the Marion Police Department has turned up in its investigation of the animal shelter’s billing records. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is helping the Marion department dig through the records.

In spectacular fashion, Marion police officers raided the shelter the evening of March 25 and seized business records.

The department is looking to see if the shelter overbilled customers. Those customers include the city of Marion and several other small cities in the county.

Stephanie Holub, Humane Society board member and media liaison, on Wednesday said the society’s board of directors was still waiting to hear from the Marion police.

She pointed out, as she did 10 days ago, that the board has implemented several changes in light of the police investigation and also a complaint filed by a former employee with the state veterinary board. The changes are:

— Hire an independent consultant to review and provide advice on the operation of the society’s shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. east of Cedar Rapids.

— Ask Doug Fuller, a Humane Society board member, active shelter volunteer and retired police detective, to take a formal leadership role at the shelter.

— Invite the Iowa Veterinary Board to conduct random inspections to put to rest any allegation of animal mistreatment.

— Ask the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission to investigate the accusations of a former employee critical of the shelter and its work environment.

In a talk with Ehrenberger and Tarah Young, both raised questions about the medical care of some of the animals and the quality of some employees when they worked at the shelter.



Zapping garbage will always be on the solid waste agenda if Marion rep has his way

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, Marion, Tom Podzimek, Viewpoint on April 16, 2008 at 2:54 am

Who needs a paid Minnesota consultant and a report that covers a waterfront when you’ve got Marion’s Charlie Kress?

That’s a bit of how it went this week at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board meeting when Kress, Marion’s representative on the agency board, got his favorite topic, plasma arc technology, on the board’s monthly agenda.

At the meeting, too, was Louis Circeo, director of the Plasma Applications Research Program at the Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta.

Circeo is bit of a celebrity for Kress and some others in and around Marion who have created a nonprofit corporation, Waste Not Iowa, which is devoted to making Iowa a landfill-free zone. Waste Not Iowa paid for Circeo’s trip.

This core group of Circeo fans became enthused with plasma arc technology back in 2005 at a time when the city of Marion was fighting the solid waste agency over the agency’s plan to expand its Site 2 landfill north of Marion at County Home Road and Highway 13.

Plasma arc – there wasn’t an operating waste-to-energy plasma arc facility in the United States in 2005 and there isn’t today – became the option for some rather than expanding a landfill.

Ultimately, the city of Marion settled with the agency, and an expansion, more modest than first planned, is now underway at Site 2.

As part of the agreement, the agency board set aside a spot for a Marion representative. And Kress filled it. The agency also made a commitment to keep an eye on technological changes in the solid waste field. And Kress, it is clear, is not going to let them forget about plasma arc.

It was hard not to notice Tuesday that plasma-arc guru Circeo’s appearance in front of the board Tuesday came on the heels of a report to the board last month in which a Minnesota consultant told the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board to embrace its landfill and to “wait and see” for up to five years on a variety of waste-to-energy technologies, including plasma arc.

In that report, Curtis Hartog, a senior technical consultant with Foth Infrastructure & Environment LLC, Lake Elmo, Minn., said many of the waste-to-energy ideas had not yet proven viable in the United States.

Kress had plenty of questions for Hartog a month ago, and plenty of support for Circeo on Tuesday.

Circeo’s visit to the solid was board was a return one. He spoke to the board two and half years ago, a talk that prompted a few board members, including Kress, to travel to Circeo’s Georgia laboratory two years ago to witness the technology first hand.

Back in 2006, Circeo talked about St. Lucie County, Fla., and its plans to build a plasma arc operation to zap its municipal solid waste.

Circeo said Tuesday that the Florida county now was readying to break ground by the end of this year.

Circeo also said New Orleans, Tallahassee, Fla., and Sacramento, Calif., have decided to build plasma arc facilities, and that Hartford, Conn., also is moving in that direction.

The promise of plasma arc technology is that it can turn garbage and other waste into steam and electricity and eliminate the need for landfills.

In fact, Circeo said that ultimately plasma arc will be cheaper than putting solid waste in landfills. He put the cost of building a plasma arc plant handling 1,000 tons of garbage a day at $150 million.

Board Chairman Tom Podzimek and board member Linda Langston told Circeo that they were still waiting for a working plasma arc system in the United States that could actually produce reliable data on operational costs as well as energy.

Circeo said such data might be four to six years away.

Podzimek, using Circeo’s figures, noted that an operating plant in Japan — Japan has a small plant and a bigger one — has far less impressive energy output to energy input than Circeo estimates a new plasma arc operation would have. Circeo said newer technology is better.

Podzimek also noted that many of the proposed plants are large ones, and he wondered if paying the cost to truck garbage to a site would be figured into the overall cost equation.

Circeo noted that cities like New Orleans and Atlanta have a lot of municipal waste.

Podzimek also wondered if fees to dump waste, called tipping fees, would climb for waste taken to a plasma arc facility. Would industries then go elsewhere where tipping fees remained lower? Podzimek wondered.

Circeo said the proposal in St. Lucie County, Fla., does not call for higher tipping fees.

Podzimek noted Tuesday that the board did not pay to bring Circeo to town. Such input is always appreciated, Podzimek said. But he added that the board would not have paid for what was a return visit from Circeo just a month after the board’s consultant had provided a comprehensive report on high-tech, waste-to-energy technology.

In documents filed with the Iowa Secretary of State, Waste Not Iowa, which paid for Circeo’s trip, lists Dennis Naughton of Cedar Rapids as president, Kress as secretary and treasurer and John Vernon of Marion as a director.


CEMAR Trail still a ways off; spectacular bike bridges in future trail plans

In City Hall, Downtown District, Marion on April 12, 2008 at 9:47 pm

It was worth asking the question when local bicyclists took to busy First Avenue East at rush hour a week ago to make the point that the city needs to make more accommodations for those on two wheels.

The question: Just what is the status of the CEMAR Trail, the strip of paved trail that will run from the popular Cedar River Trail at Cedar Lake near downtown to the south side of Marion?  After all, when built, most bicyclists are apt to take the CEMAR, not busy First Avenue East.

Rob Davis, the city’s engineering manager, reports that the city now has $870,800 in hand in state and federal grant money to help build Phase 1 of the CEMAR project; $150,000 for Phase 2; and is seeking $3 million in state trail funds for  Phase 3.

The total cost of the project is about $5 million.

No construction is expected on the project this construction season, but look for design of Phase 1 this year.

Phase 1 takes the trail from Shaver Road NE at Cedar Lake to 20th Street NE and comes, Davis says, with at least two difficulties:

 One, the trail passes long-established neighborhoods, so a lot of residents will want to see just how the trail affects them. A trail out front of the house may have homeowners wondering if they are going to run over bicyclists as those in vehicles back out of driveways. And a trail in backyards could invade some privacy. Phase 1, Davis notes, doesn’t pick up along an old railroad right of way until it gets to 16th Street NE.

“If you’re going through an urban area, it’s going to be a challenge,” Davis says. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity, he adds, because so many people live along the trail route and are apt to use it. Close by will be both Coe College and Mount Mercy College.

A second difficulty of Phase 1, Davis says, is getting the CEMAR over railroad tracks and then under Interstate 380 at the trail’s start near Cedar Lake before it begins its journey toward Marion.

He says Phase 2 of the trail, which takes the trail up to 29th Street NE, is the easiest phase, but Phase 3 is tough because it has the task of getting over First Avenue East.

One concept now being studied is to build a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over First Avenue East at 31 Street NE/SE before the trail then heads to Marion.

Davis notes that a major improvement is coming to First Avenue East, too, and one idea for that might include a boulevard-like, landscaped center median. One advantage of such a median would be that it could hold the necessary pillars to support a bridge to get the CEMAR over First Avenue East.

Davis this week talked about the new mentality being used these days when building streets and roads in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and nationwide. He called the approach “the complete street,” an approach that takes into consideration all users. You don’t build or improve a street, he says, without thinking sidewalks and trails and trees and other amenities.

Davis points to major improvements now underway on Edgewood Road SW as a pair of viaducts now are being built to take the road over two sets of railroad tracks and Prairie Creek. Part of the improvements will include a new on-ramp to Highway 30 for those heading north and east, a ramp that by next year will prevent those heading south on Edgewood Road SW across Highway 30 from turning left to head east.

The new on-ramp also will come with a pedestrian/bicycle tunnel under it and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Highway 30 on the east side of Edgewood Road SW north to 37th Street SW, Davis says.

The bridge might be five years out, he says.

Doug Neumann, who heads up the Downtown District, was talking optimistically this week about the city’s chances of securing state funding this legislative session for the proposed, 7.5-mile RiverWalk project along the river through downtown.

Neumann notes that the southern end of the RiverWalk is apt to include a pedestrian/bicycle  bridge across the Cedar River from the Cedar River Trail to the city’s new urban fishery on the east side of the river. The fishery also will have a paved trail around it, which is being built this summer.

Verdict still out on Cedar Valley Humane Society shelter; society’s board assures public again

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 6, 2008 at 4:02 am

With word still out on a Marion police investigation into billing practices at the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s animal shelter, the society’s board of directors on Saturday announced steps to shore up its credibility.

The board said it will:

— Hire an independent consultant to review and provide advice on the operation of the society’s shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. east of Cedar Rapids.

— Ask Doug Fuller, a Humane Society board member, active shelter volunteer and retired police detective, to take a formal leadership role at the shelter.

— Invite the Iowa Veterinary Board to conduct random inspections to put to rest any allegation of animal mistreatment.

— Ask the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission to investigate the accusations of a former employee critical of the shelter and its work environment.

 In a written statement, Charles Abraham, the society’s board chairman and a veterinarian, said the four steps announced Saturday reflect many of the goals that have been a part of the shelter’s strategic plan.

 At the same time, Abraham denied allegations that either employees or animals at the shelter had been mistreated.

He noted that a national consulting firm, Shelter Planners of America, examined the Humane Society shelter’s performance in recent months and gave the shelter a rating of 7 out of 10. Most shelters score less well on such first reviews, he said.

Several members of the Humane Society’s board spoke to The Gazette on March 26, the day after the evening raid at the shelter by the Marion police. The Marion department, with the help of an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent, has said it is looking at the shelter’s past billing practices.

On March 26, board member Fuller said he had been working the phone to try to put shelter supporters’ minds at ease.

“And it’s difficult when you don’t have a clue exactly what you’re being accused of,” he said then.

In addition, board member Wilford Stone, a local attorney, said that there is always a possibility of accounting errors and “some things falling through the cracks.” But he said errors were not crimes.

A district court judge has sealed court records related to the search warrant in the Marion police raid of the shelter. Those warrants usually detail who is making allegations and what the allegations are.

The Gazette earlier reported that two former shelter employees, Joy Jager and Sarah Young, have filed lawsuits against the Humane Society in the last few months. Stone said the two are asking for compensation they say is owed them.

In January, the Iowa Employment Appeal Board denied Jager’s claim for jobless benefits. On a 2-1 vote, the board concluded, as an administrative law judge had earlier, that Jager resigned and so was not entitled to jobless benefits. Jager was ordered to return $1,676 in jobless benefits that had been paid her pending the appeal.

According to the appeal board’s ruling, Jager had alleged in her jobless claims appeal that the Humane Society had put sick cats up for adoption, had incomplete medical records and had operated on short staff.

The Cedar Valley Humane Society is a private, non-profit organization that depends on donations and volunteers. Donations and support for the shelter is up since allegations have surfaced against the shelter, board members say.

The Humane Society just six weeks ago launched a public campaign to raise money for a $1.5-million expansion of its shelter.

The shelter has handled about 3,000 animals a year, as does Cedar Rapids animal shelter off Old River Road SW. The Cedar Rapids shelter, which is run by public dollars with the help of volunteers, is looking to upgrade its facility independent of the Humane Society’s shelter.

Just last week, Cedar Rapids City Council member Jerry McGrane noted that both the Humane Society shelter and the city’s shelter were looking to invest in costly improvements, and he suggested the two shelters once again discuss the possibility of merging into one, better operation.

Such a discussion did not lead to anything in recent months, and in recent weeks, the Humane Society has said it isn’t interested and that the metro area is large enough for two facilities.