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

Posts Tagged ‘City Hall’

Clearing city of hundreds and hundreds of flood-wrecked homes nears reality: HUD changes formula and sends Iowa bigger pot of disaster-relief funds

In City Hall, Floods on June 9, 2009 at 6:05 pm

It was possible to imagine a future Tuesday in which hundreds and hundreds of flood-wrecked Cedar Rapids homes no longer are sitting, empty and ugly.

A much-awaited announcement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be sending a new round of Community Development Block Grant funds into Iowa totally $516.7 million. The state also will be able to compete for a share of another $300 million of new CDBG money, a pleased Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, announced Tuesday afternoon.

“I think it’s progress,” Loebsack said. “We’re on the road to recovery and rebuilding.”

Cedar Rapids, with more than 50 percent of the flood damage in Iowa a year ago, will get some sizable share of the new money coming into the state.

Council member Chuck Wieneke, who is the council’s lead voice on buyouts of flood-damaged properties, said Tuesday that the city’s first priority for the new CDBG money will be the buyout of flood-damaged homes. The city has estimated it may need to buy out 1,300 homes at a cost of $175 million.

Wieneke noted that the latest HUD money won’t arrive in the city tomorrow, but he said he hoped the city might see it by latter in the summer.

Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator, on Tuesday reported that more than 1,000 people have begun the city’s buyout process as the city prepared to purchase some 554 flood-damaged homes in the proposed levee construction area and another 600 or so homes elsewhere beyond reasonable repair. The city has initiated the buyout process so it is poised to buy out properties quickly once CDBG money arrives, Pratt pointed out.

Another group of 167 property owners, which own flood-damaged homes closest to the river, are ready for buyouts using Federal Emergency Management funds. The FEMA money could be here by late August, Pratt said.

City Manager Jim Prosser on Tuesday said the city had hoped, at a minimum, to garner $200 million in the latest allocation of CDBG funds. It remains to be seen if the city gets that much from the state of Iowa’s allocation of $516.7 million, he said.

However, Wieneke and Mayor Kay Halloran both emphasized that Cedar Rapids sustained more than 50 percent of the flood damage in the state a year ago, though both said the city had not managed yet to get that large a share of federal funds coming through the state.

Prosser said the city will use the CDBG money for buyouts, new replacement housing and reconstruction of city infrastructure in flood-damaged neighborhoods.

Key will be rules that accompany the money, the city manager noted.

One HUD spokesman on Tuesday said, for instance, that the new CDBG money could be used to supplement FEMA disaster funds that will come to the city to repair or rebuild flood-damaged public buildings.

Much attention by Iowa’s Congressional delegation and Iowa’s state and local officials has been devoted since late last year to the formula HUD has used to dispense disaster funds among some 30 states that have had disasters in the last year.

HUD apparently changed the formula this time.

In a HUD allocation in November, Iowa received $125 million or 5.8 percent of the $2 billion total. Now, Iowa will receive 13.2 percent of the $3.9 billion total.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Congressman Loebsack said that HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told him that Iowa fared better in the latest formula because of a factor in the formula addressing “unmet needs.”

“For me the bottom line is I think I made the case for Iowa and certainly for the Second (Congressional) District,” Loebsack said. “My goal is to make sure that the people of Cedar Rapids and the Second District as a whole get their fair share and get what they deserve.”

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City Council keeps its distance from May’s Island; may extend lease for 2 years on temp setup in suburban-style office park; big June 13 ceremony on river’s west side

In City Hall on June 2, 2009 at 4:11 pm

The City Council isn’t rushing to go near May’s Island, home to the flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building, which houses City Hall.

On its agenda this week, the council says it will discuss at its next meeting, on June 10, a proposal to extend its lease at City Hall’s temporary location, 3851 River Ridge Dr. NE, for another two years. The city’s lease for the spot in an office-park building owned by AEGON USA is $23,410 a month. The Federal Emergency Management Agency pays the money. The AEGON USA sign is still out front.

The return of city government to May’s Island in the future is among the questions about the city’s flood-damaged buildings that the public will be asked to weigh in on during a series of open houses, the first of which is June 23.

On another front, City Hall revealed this week that it will hold a Flood 2008 Commemoration Ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 13.

The ceremony, though, will not be on the giant lawn on May’s Island in the middle of the river, but instead, will be held at Sunner Park and Lot 20 on the west side of the river near the police station .

Cassie Willis, the city’s communications liaison, on Tuesday said the parking ramp underneath the May’s Island lawn was flood-damaged, and it’s unclear if it’s safe to congregate on the lawn above it.

Willis noted that she has invited Iowa Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley to the event, neither of which can come, she reported. Congressman Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, will be on hand and will speak, though Gov. Chet Culver’s office has said, to date, that the governor will not attend, said Willis.

Spielman’s Event Services and Rausch Productions Inc. will help put on the event for the city.

About 100 are expected to attend in addition to 45 participants and 35 event volunteers.

Flood-recovery milestone reached: All 70 purple-placarded properties now demolished and off to the dump

In City Hall, Floods on May 22, 2009 at 11:32 am

One flood-recovery landmark has been reached.

All 70 of the worst-damaged properties – the ones with purple placards signifying they were too unsafe to enter – have now all been demolished, City Hall reports.

The last of the properties, most of which were homes, came down at the end of April.

The demolition effort took some months to start after a couple false starts over bidding.

Some of the job was done by winter, when it then had to take a break because water used to control possible asbestos dust from the properties would have frozen. The properties were so unsafe that crews couldn’t enter to assess asbestos materials inside. As a result, all the demolition debris had to be treated as asbestos-containing material.

In recent months, city officials successfully lobbied the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have the agency pay for the demolition of another 200 or 300 or so homes. Those are the ones, also considered too unsafe to enter, with red placards in the city’s best-to-worst system of green, yellow, red and purple placards.

Those demolitions are expected to begin in July once paperwork requirements are satisfied, city officials said this week.

In total, the city estimates it may buy out and demolish 1,300 homes and other properties at a total cost of $175 million.

Much of the buyout money will come from federal Community Development Block Grant funds, and the city is expecting word any time from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development of the next large release of CDBG disaster money.

In the meantime, the city has set up a buyout assessment system and is in the process of interviewing those wanting a buyout whose homes qualify.

Past council candidate Bates back with profanity-tainted yelling; but a criminal charge from an earlier episode in September was dismissed

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Greg Graham on May 21, 2009 at 11:37 am

One of the last times Robert Bates — a City Council candidate in 2005 who is open about his criminal and prison past — showed up at a City Council meeting, he ended up getting arrested.

That was in early September, and the misdemeanor criminal charge of disorderly conduct for disturbing a lawful meeting was the result of Bates’ profanity-laced and yelling-tainted performance during the council’s public comment period.

Turns out, Bates, who runs a traveling concession business, contested the charge and beat it in February.

On Wednesday, he was back at the City Council podium with a new version of public comment that featured profanity, a loud voice, personal attacks and a short refusal to leave the microphone when the council’s 5-minute time limit had been reached.

Council member Brian Fagan, the council’s mayor pro tem, asked Bates to moderate his comments twice, and then Fagan had to insist that Bates leave the microphone.

By then, Police Chief Greg Graham had moved to the side of the room to accompany Bates outside.

Bates asked if he was getting arrested again, to which Graham did not respond.

In his presentation, Bates once again brought up a decade-old dispute with the Linn County Sheriff and the Police Department. Bates also is a flood victim, and he talked, too, about what was not being done for flood victims.

Bates also had a notable outburst in the council chambers in the fall of 2007 when he sought to run for City Council a second time. However, a citizen successfully challenged some signatures on his nominating petitions and, as a result, he did not have enough signatures to qualify to run.

On Thursday, Bates said he and Chief Graham talked for about 15 minutes outside the City Council meeting on Wednesday evening in a discussion that he said did not result in any criminal charge.

He said he is just “standing up for our American rights” of free speech to make the point of how he and other flood victims feel.

He said he is planning a new run for City Council this year.

City Council ‘steam team’ leader Vernon says work underway to create an equitable way to dispense $21 million in steam conversion funds

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Monica Vernon on May 21, 2009 at 9:41 am

City Council member Monica Vernon, the City Council’s “steam team” chief, reports that the city’s Pat Ball, utilities director, and Mike Sable, a special assistant to the city manager, are helping to work up an approach to dispense $21 million in state funds to help those in the downtown steam network convert to their own systems.

ernon said the effort involves devising an “equitable” way to hand out the funds. She said a proposal may be coming in front of the council as soon as next week.

The money consists of $5 million in state I-JOBS funds and $16 million in money set aside by the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

The City Council brought absolute clarity to the lingering downtown steam issue two weeks ago when the council voted unanimously not to allow public funds to be used to rebuild Alliant Energy’s flood-destroyed Sixth Street Generating Plant as a coal plant.

There had been a push to find federal and state money to rebuild the Alliant plant –which provided low-cost steam power to the key industries Quaker and Cargill, the two hospitals, Coe College and the downtown and near downtown — as a coal plant. Alliant, a private entity, cannot directly receive public money, and so it would have had to be allocated to the City Council for use.

The council, though, concluded that burning coal and environmental issues associated with it represented the past, not the future. Council members said a new era of taxing emissions from coal plants will make mean that coal may not be as much of a bargain as some now think it is.

Council rejects push for special new committee in fight for $118.5-million in I-JOBS money; it says established flood-recovery committee is already there to help

In City Hall, Floods on May 21, 2009 at 8:10 am

The business community apparently continues to want to create new entities to try to help the City Council.

This time, City Council member Justin Shields told his council colleagues Wednesday evening that a noontime meeting Wednesday of some local business and other leaders led to the suggestion of a special new committee to help the city decide which projects it should get behind in the competition for $118.5 million in state I-JOBS stimulus funds.

Backers of several local projects are interested in a piece of the $118.5 million in state-distributed funds, including, no doubt, those eager for a new community center/recreation center and also those who want to upgrade the U.S. Cellular Center and add a convention center to it.

At the suggestion of new help, the council, though, decided it didn’t need to create something new to decide how best to compete for the state I-JOBS money.

The council will use the City Hall-based Recovery and Reinvestment Coordinating Team, which has been in place and providing advice to the council since the early days of flood recovery.

Shields and council member Chuck Wieneke both noted that the RRCT has representation from a wide sector of community interests, including the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown District as well as leaders in housing, arts and culture, non-profit agencies, neighborhoods and government.

Council member Monica Vernon and Shields said it was important that the council pick a couple of quality projects and get them submitted to the state I-JOBS competition quickly.

Forget the “wish lists,” Shields said.

As for getting pushed by outside forces, the council currently is in the process of hiring a flood recovery manager, the majority of whose salary will be paid for by the private sector. This was a private-sector idea pushed by Rockwell Collins.

The council also is contributing some money to a private-sector creation, the Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp., which came to be, to a degree, from some private-sector frustration with City Hall over the pace of flood recovery.

Shields last night said there is a sense in the community that Cedar Rapids never fares very well in competitions for money that the state hands out. So, he said, it was important to make a good case.

At the same time, the state already has earmarked other I-JOBS money to Cedar Rapids and Linn County in the tune of $45.5 million. Proposals to secure these funds must be submitted by Sept. 1.

Of that money, $5 million goes to each of three flood-damaged city buildings, the library, Public Works Building and Paramount Theatre, with another $5 million to provide steam replacement assistance for those who have been on the flood-wrecked downtown steam system. The National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library is receiving $10 million as are backers of a new human services building. Options of Linn County is getting $5 million the city of Palo’s fire station, $500,000.

Wellington Heights’ president invites council for an awareness walk; castigates suggestion that garbage crews wear bullet-proof vests

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Neighborhoods on May 15, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Terry Bilsland, longtime president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, this week invited the City Council on a 20-block-long neighborhood walk the evening of May 21 to help concerned citizens make it clear they aren’t going to put up with criminal activity.

The walkers will travel through parts of both the Wellington Heights Neighborhood and the Mound View Neighborhood, which are split by First Avenue East.

A similar walk a few years ago mobilized council member Brian Fagan and others to push for a new Enhance Our Neighborhoods initiative, an initiative that got set aside a bit after last June’s flood, but is now, City Hall says, back on the front burner.

Evidence of that is the Police Department’s move to open a district police station in June at 1501 First Ave. SE between the two neighborhoods. Code enforcement officers and other city employees will call the district station home, too.

Bilsland, who is known for working with City Hall to try to get things done, had another issue on his own front burner that he let the City Council know about this week. Bilsland referred to a TV news report in which a city solid waste employee apparently said he wanted the city to issue him a bullet-proof vest to pick up garbage in Wellington Heights.

Bilsland, who is not shy about chiding the local media when he says it unfairly characterizes Wellington Heights, said the matter suppossedly centered on a dispute over garbage, and Bilsland wanted to know how often that has happened in the neighborhood and how often it happens elsewhere in the city. He was sure it was a rare event and certainly no more frequent in one place than another.

He told the City Council that he expected solid waste employees to wear the bullet-proof vests citywide if such vests were ever issued, and Bilsland said he’d be out checking to make sure the workers — if the city was going to spend such money — had the vest on even when it was 100 degrees outside and no matter which part of the city they were in.

Jade calls it quits on license tussle with Police Department; she sells her downtown Brick’s Bar & Grill; new owner has license approved

In City Hall, Police Department on May 15, 2009 at 8:36 am

Jade Harper-Hronik, the seemingly battle-weary owner of Bricks Bar & Grill downtown, has thrown in the towel.

In a terse one-sentence note to City Hall, Harper-Hronik has told the Police Department and City Council to forget the fight between the business and the city over the renewal of her liquor license. She has sold the business, she tells the city.

The new owner, Drew Munson, had his application for a liquor license approved by the City Council on Wednesday evening.

Harper-Hronik and the Police Department had been going back and forth for many weeks over the application she submitted for her downtown venue’s annual liquor license renewal.

The department said she had not answered some questions truthfully, while she said she had answered all questions several months ago in an earlier application and that the current application was incomplete.
The City Council asked the department to work with Harper-Hronik, but the department came back with additional questions.

Harper-Hronik indicated in her last correspondence with the city that she had attempted to sell the business in the recent past, and apparently now she has.

Police Chief Greg Graham, who arrived in the city a year ago, has signaled that he is going to take liquor license applications seriously.

The downtown Tycoon nightspot also had a go-round with the Police Department and the tavern currently is operating with a kind-of probationary liquor license.

Mr. $475-an-hour — who became Mr. $225-an-hour — still a vital cog in the city’s drive to get all it can from FEMA

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods on May 14, 2009 at 9:58 am

The City Council approved a contract extension last night for John Levy.

The extension takes Levy’s contract through June 30, adds $186,400 to the cost of it and brings the total cost to $786,400. The contract began Oct. 1.

Levy showed up at City Hall even as flood water was receding last June. He came with disaster experience from Hurricane Katrina and a message: Experience makes all the difference for cities if they are to make sure they get all they deserve in flood-disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Levy was then an executive with an entity called Globe Midwest, and after the city hired him, he achieved a measure of celebrity when it became noted that the city was paying the firm $475 an hour for Levy’s services.

In the first three months after the flood, the city paid Globe Midwest $691,000.

The city had a parallel contract for other flood-recovery duties with a second disaster-services firm, Adjusters International, to which the city had paid $645,000 in the first three months of recovery.
Last September, the city put the contracts up for new bids. Several firms competed, but Adjusters International won one contract, and Levy, who created his own company, Base Tactical Disaster Recovery, won the second contract. The new contract, at least at its inception, called for Levy’s new firm to get paid $225 an hour for his services.

In a memo this week to the City Council, city staff members note that Levy’s current contract extended through Jan. 9, 2009, and had been extended twice, through May 9, at no additional cost.

The city says Levy matters.

At a Veterans Memorial Commission meeting earlier this week, Levy was center stage as commission members challenged City Manager Jim Prosser about why renovations to the city’s flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island hadn’t yet begun. The city has suggested the building has had $25 million in damage.

Prosser called on Levy.

Levy explained the negotiation that cities and FEMA engage in as they come to some agreement on how much damage has occurred to a building. The city has weighed in with its “worksheet” on the damages, while FEMA is still working on its worksheet. FEMA was preparing for a fourth visit to the building, he said. Negotiations then would follow. After that, a second process takes place in which the city presents its plan on how it will mitigate against flood damage to the building in the future, Levy said.

Prosser noted that the city estimates it may have as much as $500 million in damage to its public buildings and facilities. Moving FEMA by a few percentage points on the size of damages is worth millions of dollars to the city, he noted.