Cedar Rapids City Leaders Gear up for Flood Funding Pitch

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

The Cedar River passes through downtown Cedar Rapids after it crested at 18.23 feet on Sunday morning, June 2, 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Dave Franzman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A big step in the search for future flood protection for the city of Cedar Rapids is set to take place next Thursday. That’s when Cedar Rapids city leaders will appear before the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board in Des Moines to make an all-important request for state funding.

The city will show the board the current plans for flood protection on both the east and west sides of the Cedar River. They’ll also make a formal request for $264-million dollars in state assistance over 20 years. That amount, if approved, would cover approximately 46 percent of the now-estimated $570-million dollar total price tag.

Joe O’Hern, city executive administrator for development services, said the flood protection plan itself hasn’t changed a lot in recent years since it was finalized after the flood of 2008. It’s still a mixture of levees and flood walls with removable flood walls planned for the core downtown. The money sought from the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board would come from the growth in state sales tax collections over the years. By law, the board can approve diverting up to 70 percent of an increase in sales tax receipts for a city for flood protection projects.

There are limits to what the board can award to any one city and O’Hern said the city hopes to get the maximum.

“We’re hoping to get up to our maximum of $15-million dollars which would be half of the $30-million they’re allowed to provide in any one year,” O’Hern said.

O’Hern said the original estimate for flood protection in Cedar Rapids was $375-million dollars. The increase to $570-million reflects inflation, added construction expenses and financing over the 20 year period. O’Hern believes with full funding from both the federal and state governments, the city’s share of the project would amount to approximately $110-million.

Al Pierson, a long time flood protection advocate in the hard-hit Time Check neighborhood, said that may sound like an awful lot of money. But divided up over 20 years, you’re talking about an extra $5 to $7-million dollars in a yearly city budget. He said he wouldn’t have a problem selling that plan to fellow taxpayers.

“There will certainly be a percentage against it no matter what. But I think the majority of citizens would just love it,” Pierson said.

Pierson said he could see the local share being even less. For one, state approval of a casino would give the city more ways to pay for future flood protection aside from property taxes.

The Iowa Flood Mitigation Board could decide on the funding requests from Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Dubuque, Waverly, Coralville and several other cities by the end of the year.
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