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The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

This land is our land

I drive each morning from north of Walker to Cedar Rapids. It’s a pleasant drive to Center Point, especially these past few weeks. The mornings are bright and cool, there’s a good breeze and the land rises and falls in green folds.

Some mornings, mist hangs in the low land east of the paved road above Center Point, and everything is so green — the trees, the soybeans, the corn (except for the thin blanket of yellow tassels on top). From a high point on the road, the fields and treelines recede into the distance in hazy layers.

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Filed under: Other, ,

Oct. 1 still target date for courthouse

It’s a little more than a month until Linn County officials hope to restore some court operations to the courthouse on May’s Island. The building, built in 1919, was damaged in June flooding.

Linn County IT Director Phil Lowder told the supervisors this morning that he expects phones, Internet and other IT stuff to be ready for the county attorney’s office at the county courthouse on Sept. 15.

Other obstacles to getting court operations going again at the courthouse are, according to Mike Goldberg: clearance on the elevators, the fire protection system, access for people with disabilities, card access wiring and the heating and cooling system.

Contractors are working on all those things.

Target date is still Oct. 1. In order to move court operations back in by then, the contractors need to be done by Sept. 15, Linn County Constructions Services Manager Garth Fagerbakke said.

A crew of custodians will go into the courthouse on Tuesday to begin cleaning.

“Things are actually starting to move along,” Fagerbakke said.

Filed under: County Government, Courts, Flood, , ,

Don’t laugh. It could be interesting.

I’m going to try, when it’s possible, to cover Board of Supervisors meetings live using Twitter and this blog.

I know, I know, who wants live updates from a supervisors meeting. I have two responses to this:

1. The supervisors are making decisions that affect our lives.

2. I’ll try to make it interesting.

If you want to follow the updates on Twitter, e-mail me and I’ll invite you to the website, which means you’ll automatically get my updates. My screenname is adambelz. Ideally, this could get to the point where there’s a live conversation going on during the meetings, and people out there can pose questions and make comments on what’s going on.

Also, and this is a standing invitation, everyone is welcome to post on this blog. Write something and then e-mail it to me at adam.belz@gazcomm.com
Eventually I want to have a group of you who regularly posts. (Steve Valley, I know you’re out there somewhere!) Even political candidates are welcome. If there’s any interest, we may have to develop some guidelines, but for now, I just want to encourage participation.

Filed under: County Government, Flood, , ,

Pelosi coming to Iowa

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Iowa on Sept. 8 to tour flood damaged areas of the state, Congressman Dave Loebsack’s office announced Saturday. 

“She personally assured me that when Congress reconvenes in September we will take up and pass a second disaster assistance package,” Loebsack said in a statement. “However, before we can secure comprehensive disaster aid, Speaker Pelosi must see firsthand the extent of damage to our communities, families, and businesses affected by the floods. Only then will she understand the true struggle our state faces as we travel down the long road to recovery.”

Loebsack said Pelosi “accepted my invitation” to visit Iowa.

Filed under: Flood, , ,

No merger, no parasites

Blogger’s Note: This is most of an e-mail Zingula sent out in response to the Gazette’s Sunday editorial floating the idea of merging city and county government. If you want to contribute to this blog, please send me an e-mail at adam.belz@gazcomm.com

By Curt Zingula

Whether you are talking about Indianapolis/Marion County, Nashville/Davidson County, Louisville/Jefferson County or Jacksonville/Duval County, these examples of city/county consolidation are apples and oranges to Cedar Rapids/Linn County. All of those cities have, by geographic area, consumed their respective counties. Such is not the case with little Cedar Rapids which takes up only about 1/4 of Linn County. And we have 900 miles of shoddy rural county roads to prove it!

In my archives of information about the Louisville/Jefferson County merger is an article written by the Des Moines Register shortly after the merger officially took place. It states that the consolidation began with utter chaos and contains a quote from a merger supporter who whines that they never promised things would start our better. The guy admitted, after the damage had begun, that he expected it would take 7 years for the merger to become better than what they had before. As Louisville is finishing their 6th year of this merger, we find that someone now considers it safe to use them as an example.

As far as the population increase is concerned, anyone schooled in city/county consolidation knows that a big benefit to doing so is that the parasitic city gets to count the rest of the county as part of their own population. This is the rope-a-dope strategy that allowed Louisville to succeed with their consolidation as they used this point to convince people that a higher population would attract professional sports.

Personally, I don’t know how a consolidated government could be any worse than what we already have with our county government. We sit on the verge of re-electing a supervisor who bankrupted the History Center, gerrymandered her own district and hires consultants left and right while trying to lay claim to one of the highest supervisor salaries in the nation. That reminds me, a corrupt government is exactly the reason Jacksonville/Duval County merged. That’s how they wiped the slate clean and started over!!!!

I can understand someone reading what I have just written and saying, “what does this guy know about government.” My comments echo what at least two university studies concluded. They reported that there is no conclusive evidence that the pluses will outweigh the minuses with city/county consolidated government. One study even concluded that the only people to gain are the ones who are already benefiting from their connections with government.

Zingula is a farmer northeast of Marion and president of the Linn County Farm Bureau.

Filed under: County Government, , , ,

Mahaney: Oh the memories!

Right here, you can see the straight news story on Rich Mahaney’s immanent departure from the Linn County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

“Personal reasons” don’t count as a reason for anything, so if anyone wants to chime in here, feel free. Anyone have any idea why he’s leaving?

Now, his exit is slightly mysterious, but it’s probably not worth much scrutiny, and I’m going to focus on what really matters: the good old days.

I’ll remember two encounters with Mahaney for a long time. Both were during the flood.

1. I walk into the Emergency Operations Center with Mike Goldberg, the Linn County administrative services director.

It was just after one of the flood briefings, and we walk into the nerve center of the building, a room full of people wearing important-looking polo shirts and typing on laptops. I sit down with Linn County Supervisor Lu Barron and a guy who works on electronic maps for the county. Goldberg disappears into some side office.

Before I know it, Mahaney (always a good friend to reporters) is on me like a St. Bernard chasing a rabbit (he’s a big guy, I’m small).

“You from the Gazette?” he demands, charging toward me. “Out! Right now. Out!”

In our country’s era of “homeland security” and “emergency management” ascendance, Mahaney’s position during the flood made him an unquestioned authority.

I simply had to leave, so after muttering my protest to Barron, I picked up my notebook and left, a banished, chastised member of the media. I was a little sore about it.

2. During the height of the flood, FEMA director David Paulison and Mahaney were standing next to each other. Culver asked a question about emergency management, and Paulison and Mahaney traded several false starts toward the podium. Finally Mahaney made it up there, where something remarkable happened.

Culver placed his hand on Mahaney’s chest, pushed him back toward his spot and said he thought we should hear from the national FEMA director.

Filed under: County Government, Flood, , ,

Property taxes due but delayed

CEDAR RAPIDS — Property tax bills will arrive a little late this year because Linn County’s mainframe was damaged by floodwaters, Treasurer Mike Stevenson said.

But make no mistake, the bills are coming some time in September and they’re due to be paid within 30 days of their arrival in your mailbox. Even for flood victims.

These tax statements are based on the assessed value of the property as of January 2007. Property taxes are paid retroactively, so the bills that will be issued next month cover the tax period of July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008.

Normally, property tax bills are mailed in August and due by September 30. An exact date will be announced later this month, but Stevenson expects to mail the bills in September.

Approximately 16 percent of property taxes paid in Linn County go to Linn County government. The remainder goes to cities, school districts and other taxing bodies.

Residents of unincorporated Linn County do not pay city property taxes. Their property taxes go into a Rural Services fund that pays for things like roads and rural libraries. For rural residents, county taxes represent about one-third of their taxes.

The Treasurer’s Office is temporarily located on the upper level of Westdale Mall. Property taxes can be paid online at http://www.IowaTaxAndTags.gov

Filed under: County Government, Flood, , ,

C.R. natives throw Chicago flood fundraiser

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids native is organizing a fundraiser in Chicago to benefit flood victims in Cedar Rapids.

Randi Mutnick, 28, her husband Dave and other Cedar Rapids natives living in Chicago are hosting a party — entry fee $50 — at the DeLux Bar & Grill, 669 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. It’s all you can drink beer, wine, soda and well drinks until 9 p.m.

There’s also going to be a raffle. All donations will go to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation’s 2008 Flood Fund, as well as select families who need help.

Filed under: Flood, , ,

County managers won’t get overtime

It looks like Linn County will not follow the city’s lead in paying overtime to salaried employees who worked extra hours during the flood and its aftermath.

“I don’t believe there’s any interest in us doing that,” Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston said. “While we’re grateful, we’re also financially challenged. I think part of the reality is, it’s not a perfect world.”

She estimates about 50 county managers worked “ungodly hours.”

The subject came up Wednesday in a monthly county managers’ meeting when Linn Engineer Steve Gannon joked that he heard a rumor county managers would get overtime pay for the extra hours worked during the flood.

“Right, the guy who really needs it!” Langston shot back. (Gannon is the highest-paid county employee outside of the county attorney’s office.)

It was the Secondary Roads Department and the Sheriff’s Office that worked the most overtime during the flood, Langston said.

“They were working probably 16, 18 hour days,” she said.

In the aftermath, several other county departments did as well.

Though overtime pay won’t happen, Langston said the Board of Supervisors may decide to waive a county vacation policy that causes employees to lose vacation if they don’t use it before a certain date. Some employees kept working in July and missed the deadline to use their vacation.

Rick Smith’s story about the city paying overtime to salaried employees is here.

Filed under: Flood, ,

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