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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

“Vote Yes” rakes in dough, “Tea Party” no

Supporters of the local-option sales tax have raised $43,850 in their campaign to win a “yes” vote in the special election Tuesday.

According to paperwork filed with the Iowa Campaign and Ethics Disclosure Board, “Vote Yes for Our Neighbors” raised most of its money through local organizations and businesses.

The Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce contributed $10,000 to the cause, the Plumbers, Steamfitters & Pipefitters Local 125 gave $8,000 and the Hawkeye Labor Council and Cedar Rapids Building Trades Council each gave $5,000.

Business have also come up big for the advocacy group. TrueNorth Companies ($2,500), Van Meter Industrial, Cedar Valley Steel, Bradley & Riley P.C., Transamerica Life Insurance Co. ($5,000) and Bergan, Paulsen & Company P.C. all gave gifts of more than $1,000.

“Any time you have strong union and strong business support on an issue, it’s something you need to take a good look at, because there might be something to it,” said Gary Ficken, co-leader of “Vote Yes.”

The group spent about half its money as of Thursday — mostly on TV and radio advertising, polling and consulting fees.

Cedar Rapids Tea Party, the group pushing for a “no” vote, has filed as an organization with the ethics board, but has not raised enough money to be required to report dollar figures.

“We’re well under the $750 mark, so it doesn’t apply to us,” said Tim Pugh, the group’s founder.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, County Government, Flood, , ,

Sales Tax Question #8: How will buyouts work?

Q. How will the money be distributed to homeowners? What qualifications/paperwork will homeowners need to present? What can homeowners do with the money? Can they hire anyone they want to do repairs, or must they use city recommended labor/suppliers? What will ensure homeowners will use the money as it was intended? What about homeowners that have already finished rebuilding and are back in their homes, will they be reimbursed? – Bryan Galde, Marion

A. How will the money be distributed to homeowners? What qualifications/paperwork will homeowners need to present? The local-option sales tax is not a city program, it provides a source for the city to fill funding pools that pay for buyouts, home repairs and replacement housing. The money will be distributed to homeowners through existing programs like the buyout program and Jumpstart housing. The city has already identified 1,346 homes eligible for buyouts. Homeowners won’t have to prove their eligibility, though the city will have consultations with homeowners. “We would ask if they’re interested,” said Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator.

Can homeowners hire anyone they want to do repairs, or must they use city recommended labor/suppliers? What will ensure homeowners will use the money as it was intended? What about homeowners that have already finished rebuilding, will they be reimbursed? Use of the money will be strictly monitored, unlike the initial FEMA assistance flood victims received. The city won’t just write checks and hand them to people.

Homeowners won’t get money for a buyout until the real estate transaction closes, meaning the title has been cleared up and the deal is finalized. Homeowners interested in rebuilding their flooded homes will be paid based on receipts, or with direct payment from the city to the contractor who does the work. So yes, homeowners who’ve already completed repairs can still get assistance, as long as they keep the receipts. Homeowners can hire anyone they want to repair their home, as long as the contractor is licensed and has taken lead safety training.

(Thanks goes to Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator, for walking me through this stuff.)

I am trying to respond to reader questions about the sales tax this week. Please e-mail or call with your questions, at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or (319) 398-8273.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Flood, , , ,

Sales Tax Question #7: What about that school tax?

Q. Do we already have a penny added to our sales tax here in Cedar Rapids? We thought that one was added to help the Cedar Rapids Schools? How long was that supposed to run and when will it drop off? – Greg and JoAnn Snyder, Cedar Rapids

A. The school local-option sales tax, which raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, was passed in Linn County in February 2007. The money from the tax was meant for school infrastructure projects.

The tax was supposed to last for 10 years. Linn and Johnson Counties were the last two counties in Iowa to adopt the tax.

But in the 2008 legislative session, state lawmakers saw that every county in Iowa now had the tax, and made the 1-percent local option sales tax into something that was no longer local, and no longer an option. It became a permanent statewide tax, permanently making the sales tax 6 percent.

If voters approve the city’s/county’s local-option sales tax March 3, the sales tax will be 7 percent.

At The Gazette’s Monday forum on the sales tax, former state representative Art Staed pointed out no Linn County legislators supported the measure. But it did pass, and it gave some voters the idea that the 10-year local-option sales tax they approved in February 2007 was made permanent behind their backs.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, County Government, Flood, , ,

Sales Tax Question #6

Q. Is local-option sales tax revenue only for flood victims? Are the funds to be kept in a separate account? Who will have oversight of this account and decide if the funds requested are flood related or not? – Edwin Kortenkamp, Marion

A. This is a three-part question, so I’ll answer in three parts.

Is local-option sales tax revenue only for flood victims? 90 percent of the money the city receives from the tax will pay for flood recovery, and the city council says that means buyouts, paying the local share for federally-funded buyouts, helping people rebuild their homes and helping flood victims who lost their homes rebuild new ones. The other 10 percent will be used for property tax relief. (Linn County’s revenue will be spent differently.)

Are the funds to be kept in a separate account? Yes, but the money will be distributed into city funds for buyouts and housing assistance. In order to keep buyouts and home repair help consistent from resident to resident, city staff must mix and match awards of federal, state and local dollars, all of which come with different rules and requirements.

Who will have oversight of this account and decide if the funds requested are flood related or not? The council voted Feb. 11 to create a nine-member Citizen Oversight Committee to monitor how revenue from the tax will be spent should voters approve the tax March 3. Mayor Kay Halloran, with the advice and consent of her council colleagues, will appoint the nine committee members. Members must be residents of the city and should represent diverse groups of people, according to the measure passed by the council.

I am trying to respond to reader questions about the sales tax this week. Please e-mail or call with your questions, at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or (319) 398-8273.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, County Government, Flood, , ,

Sales Tax Question #5: Why does Des Moines need to be involved?

Q. Why does Des Moines get the money if it’s a local-option sales tax? Why can’t the money just come straight to Cedar Rapids and Linn County? – Ken Lampe, Cedar Rapids

A. Companies that sell things collect the tax from people when they buy things, and then send the money to the Iowa Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue then distributes the money to the cities and counties that have the tax in place.

This way is more efficient than asking the retailers to distribute the tax to the hundreds of individual local governments in Iowa that have the tax in place, because the state already has the collection and distribution system in place, said Terry O’Neil, a taxpayer services specialist at the Department of Revenue.

“It’s just the most practical, because we’re already set up to do it,” he said.

I am trying to respond to reader questions about the sales tax this week. Please e-mail or call with your questions, at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or (319) 398-8273.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, County Government, Flood, , ,

Sales Tax Question #4

Q. If Linn County votes “yes”, does some of the money that would go to flood relief in Cedar Rapids end up being syphoned off to the county? – Steve Benton, Toddville

A. If rural Linn County voters pass the tax, it will mean less revenue for the city, but I can’t say with precision how much less.

The city would collect $17.2 million each year if every city in Linn County (and the rural part of the county) passes the tax. In the same scenario, the county would collect about $4.7 million. (These numbers are slightly revised from what we’ve been reporting in The Gazette, because the formula has changed, as Rick Smith reports on his blog.)

So if county voters decide NOT to pass the tax, some of that $4.7 million — we’re thinking roughly 60 percent of it — would go to the city.

The first year of the county’s revenue will go to recover county flood expenses.But the county plans to spend the bulk of its revenue, or 90 percent in years two through five, on rural roads and bridges. The other 10 percent IN YEARS TWO THROUGH FIVE will go for conservation projects.

The city, on the other hand, has the same setup for spending its revenue in all five years: 90 percent for buyouts and home repairs, and 10 percent to offset property tax increases.

Disclaimer: The dollar figures herein are estimates.

I am trying to respond to reader questions about the sales tax this week. Please e-mail or call with your questions, at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or (319) 398-8273.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, County Government, Flood, , ,

Sales Tax Question #3

Q. If the local-option sales tax were defeated March 3, how soon could the council bring a second plan to a vote? – Jean Bonner, Cedar Rapids

A. The earliest would be Aug. 4, and if not that date, then Nov. 3.

Iowa law allows for city and county elections on only four dates each year. This year the dates are March 3, May 5, Aug. 4 and Nov. 3.

But if the legislature’s exemption allowing expedited local-option sales tax elections is not in effect (and it won’t be in Cedar Rapids after the March 3 election), then city councils and boards of supervisors must notify the county auditor of any special election between 90 and 120 days in advance.

(Thanks goes to Deputy Secretary of State Linda Langenberg for explaining this to me.)

I am trying to respond to reader questions about the sales tax over the next week. Please e-mail or call with your questions, at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or (319) 398-8273.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, County Government, Flood, , ,

Sales Tax Question #2

Q. I would like some clarification on how the money will be split for ALL five years. Will it be a 90%-10% split for ALL five years? Or will it be the 90%-10% split for only the first year? – Ken Brill, Cedar Rapids

A. Depends on if you’re talking about the city or the county.

The city’s portion of the revenue will be split 90/10 for all five years, with 90 percent going to buyouts, home rehabs and flood recovery and 10 percent going to property tax relief.

The county will spend its portion of the first year’s revenue recovering county flood expenses. In years two through five, the county will spend its revenue in a 90/10 split. 90 percent for rural roads and bridges, and 10 percent for conservation maintenance and improvements.

I am trying to respond to reader questions about the sales tax over the next week. Please e-mail or call with your questions, at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or (319) 398-8273.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, County Government, Flood, , ,

Sales Tax Question #1

Q. Have there been any guarantees that if the local-option sales tax is passed that there will not be any increases in any of our other taxes, ie. property tax, etc.? – Gary Riley, Toddville

A. The answer is no, at least in the city of Cedar Rapids. There have been no such guarantees, though sales tax revenue would help offset property taxes.

Most of the sales tax money will go to pay for buyouts or flood home rehabilitation. About 1,346 homes need to be bought out, and that will cost roughly $200 million.

But 10 percent of the revenue is slated for property tax relief. By our calculations, if 10 percent equals $1.8 million per year, the city will be able to cut whatever levy rate they arrive at by 38 cents per $1,000 valuation.

This wouldn’t mean that the city will lower property taxes, though. City Finance Director Casey Drew’s initial budget presentation raised the residential levy rate by $1.56 per $1,000, which would be a 14 percent increase. If the sales tax were to pass and the levy rate decreased by 38 cents, the net change would still be an increase of $1.19 per $1,000.

The city council sent Drew back to the drawing board and asked him to write a budget that doesn’t increase property taxes by more than 5 percent. Even then, taking a best case scenario in which the budget called for a 5 percent increase in property taxes and the city cut 38 cents off the levy rate using sales tax revenue, property taxes would still rise a little.

The Linn County share of the property tax levy (that is, the property taxes people pay for Linn County government) will actually drop in the coming fiscal year.

P.S. I am trying to respond to reader questions about the sales tax over the next week. Please e-mail or call with your questions, at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or (319) 398-8273.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Flood, , , ,

Manager salary freeze: Is it a punitive demand?

Brent Oleson thinks so. He argues the non-supervisor elected officials — Auditor Joel Miller, Treasurer Mike Stevenson, Sheriff Brian Gardner and Recorder Joan McCalmant — aren’t nearly as interested in fiscal conservatism as they say they are.

Really? Then why did ALL of those elected officials turn in budget requests well above last year’s funding for their own departments? Why did most of them let their politically appointed staff receive double-digit raises over the last two years? Why do most of them continue to grow their own areas of government at healthy rates?

Freezing management salaries has been the talk of the county since the aforementioned elected officials called for it Friday. County Attorney Harold Denton has taken no official position on the matter.

About 135 non-elected, non-deputy and non-bargaining unit county employees would be affected by a management salary freeze. They are among the better-paid of all county employees.

Oleson, taking his argument to its logical conclusion, took off the gloves and pounded away at the sheriff’s office budget Monday afternoon, in a routine budget review which under normal circumstances would have gone off with a few shallow questions from the board followed by the adoption of staff recommendations. (By the way, the true nature of this process cuts at the heart of the popular argument that supervisors are CEOs of a $100 million corporation. Staffers Dawn Jindrich and Steve Tucker make most of the budget decisions.)

Oleson voted not to approve the sheriff’s budget, and was defeated 4-1. He didn’t think the sheriff needed to add two positions, or buy 9 new squad cars. Sheriff Brian Gardner was there, and as usual, answered questions in his placid, reasonable way.

Filed under: County Government, , , , , ,

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