Cedar Rapids Option Tax Supporters Cite Road Rankings as Argument for Extension
By Dave Franzman, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Nearly 75 percent of Cedar Rapids city streets rate either “poor” or “mediocre” when it comes to current condition. And supporters of extending the current one cent local option sales tax (LOST) in Cedar Rapids hope those numbers reinforce their political argument for the November 5 election.
LOST tax supporters invited the nonprofit transportation research organization “TRIPS” to a campaign event Friday morning. That Washington, D.C.-based organization compiles data about road conditions nationwide. Carolyn Bonifas Kelly, associate director of research and communication, said her group’s latest information listed 48 percent of Cedar Rapids streets in “poor” condition and 25 percent “mediocre.”
The option tax support group did not fund the research, but did pay expenses for Kelly, to come to Cedar Rapids and answer questions at the campaign event.
Kelly said it’s obvious that drivers in many communities consider their streets some of the worst around. But she said Cedar Rapids motorists do have some of the facts and figures to back it up.
She said TRIP recently completed a survey of city streets nationwide. It only included cities of 250,000 population or larger. But if Cedar Rapids were included on that list with larger cities, the community’s streets probably would have ranked in the top ten “worst” category. Kelly also said her organization tracks the cost impact on drivers from repairs caused, in part, by poor streets and the quicker-than-expected loss of vehicle value.
“Cedar Rapids drivers are losing almost $700 a year because they are driving over rough roads and that’s significantly higher than the national average which is somewhere in the $300 range,” Kelly said.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, also speaking at the event, noted that the city is currently spending about $18-million a year on street projects. Eleven million dollars of that comes from the state’s road use tax fund distributed to cities and another $7-million dollars is money borrowed and repaid through property taxes. Corbett said if the LOST extension is approved, the city would get about $18-million dollars a year from the tax as well as the road use fund . The city would stop borrowing money, but still have about $29-million dollars a year to spend, up $11-million dollars from the current level.
Option tax opponents, who are organizing now, agreed streets need work. But long time city activist Carol Martin, who is leading the last minute effort, said opponents simply don’t trust current city leaders to do what they say.
“There are so many things that can go wrong. The council can change its mind, new people come in and say we really need this (money) for this it’s extremely important,” Martin said.
Option tax supporters point out the use of the local option tax money, if the extension is approved, is spelled out on the ballot itself and it says to use only for streets.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett also expects to hear the argument from opponents that the city wasted dollars on projects in years past that could have been used for streets. He’s says he’s ready for that argument.
“They’re just going to throw out a bunch of rhetoric and demagogue the issue in the last couple of days of the campaign. There is no way we were going (for example) to be allowed to take money we spent on the Paramount and put in into the streets,” Corbett said.
Should Cedar Rapids voters approve, the currently one cent local option sales tax would be extended for 10 years. The entire amount would begin going to streets after the current option tax expires next June 30th.
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