The Hot Beat

Icon

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

Pinning down the landlords

Take for instance 1502 Fourth Ave. SE.

Since 1992, the home has been the site of at least six assaults, and people living there have been arrested three times for burglary, seven times for assault, once for a robbery and three times on drug charges.

The home, owned by David E. Hartley, is not the only landlord-owned property in southeast Cedar Rapids with problems.

Landlords are coming under scrutiny in Cedar Rapids after a spring rise in violence on both sides of First Avenue East.

Landlord indifference is a major part of the problem, said Terry Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association.

“As long as the check comes, they don’t care who lives there,” he said. “On some streets, it’s the same houses year after year.”

The City of Cedar Rapids may soon require landlords to get city licenses and follow certain rules to keep their registration.

“We’re looking at the possibility of enacting some legislation where landlords have to be licensed,” Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham said. “We’re actually right in the middle now of drafting that legislation.”

Licensing might be reassessed each year, and landlords might be required to include a crime-free addendum on their leases. The license would cost a nominal fee.

The program would allow all city departments — police, code enforcement, housing — to easily share information about properties.

Other cities across the country have similar programs, said Tim Manz, Cedar Rapids’ interim code enforcement manager. One of those is Richfield, Minn., where City Manager Jim Prosser worked before he came to Cedar Rapids.

Once a draft of an ordinance is ready, Manz said it will be shown to landlord groups and other interested parties.

“We’re at least a month away from having the language ready,” he said.

A spate of shootings and robberies, a fatal car chase and a life-threatening attack on a police officer in recent weeks have brought a police crackdown to the Wellington Heights and Mound View Neighborhoods, but also a sense of urgency for local leaders and elected officials looking for solutions.

The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission held a forum Tuesday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, where Graham mentioned the possibility of landlord licensing.

“It’s a step we can take in bringing a little more accountability,” City Council Member Brian Fagan said. “Landlords are and can be part of the solution.”

Advertisements

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

Cracking the flood insurance nut

Did you live in the 100-year flood plain before the flood? Did you have a mortgage? Did you not have flood insurance?

If those three things are true of you, or you know someone who fits the criteria, please e-mail or call me. I’m at adam.belz@gazcomm.com or 319-398-8273.

Anyone can buy flood insurance, but the only ones required to have it are those who live in the 100-year flood plain and have a mortgage through a federally-regulated lender (and that’s pretty much every lender).

In Linn County, some 3,880 homes in the 100-year flood plain were not insured against the flood. It’s hard to believe that none of those homeowners was paying a mortgage.

Bank regulators are responsible for enforcing the rule that mortgaged homes in the 100-year flood plain be insured against floods. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation occasionally penalizes lenders who either don’t tell homeowners they live in the high-risk area or who don’t require them to buy flood insurance.

Bankers and insurance agents say lender negligence is not widespread. (We’ll see.)

Northwest Neighbors President Frank King, whose Time Check home in the 500-year flood plain was totaled in the flood, said a lot of homes that were flooded were either a) bought on contract or b) owned in full by people who rented them for cash flow and didn’t bother with flood insurance.

“That’s how a lot of them got by without flood insurance,” he said.

The FDIC office in Kansas City, Mo., which oversees Iowa, is among the most aggressive enforcers of that rule in the country, said David Dickinson, president of Banker’s Compliance Consulting, based in Central City, Neb.

Since 2000, the FDIC has fined at least seven Eastern Iowa lenders for violating the flood insurance rules. The most severe penalty was against Hills Bank & Trust Co. in 2004, when it was fined $43,700 for failing to tell homeowners in a high-risk area that flood insurance was available and for not requiring flood insurance. Farmers Savings Bank & Trust in Vinton, Security State Bank in Guttenberg and Chelsea Savings Bank in Belle Plaine also have been fined since 2000.

Neither the FDIC nor any other major financial regulator has fined a Cedar Rapids or Iowa City lender for flood insurance violations in recent years.

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

“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 #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 #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, , , ,

Let the voting begin!

Absentee ballots for the March 3 local-option sales tax election are available now in the Linn County Elections Office at Westdale Mall.

Voters may pick up an absentee ballot Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Feb. 27.

The last day to vote absentee is March 2. Voters in all Linn County jurisdictions (except Coggon, Bertram, Central City, and Prairieburg) will be able to vote on whether to implement the one-cent sales tax.

If it’s passed, tax collection will begin April 1 and last until June 30, 2014. Each jurisdiction has submitted a revenue purpose statement to the Linn County Auditor’s Office.

This information and polling locations are available on the Linn County Auditor’s website or by calling (319) 892-5300.

Coggon, Bertram, Central City, and Prairieburg already have a local option sales tax in effect and will not be participating in the election.

Poll hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for all jurisdictions.

Dates & Deadlines:

– Friday, Feb. 20, is the last day to pre-register to vote.
– Friday, Feb. 27, is the last day to request an absentee ballot by mail.
– Monday, March 2, is the last day to vote absentee at the elections counter.
– Tuesday, March 3, is Election Day.
– Monday, March 9, the votes will be canvassed.
– Friday, March 13 is the last day to request a recount.

For questions regarding this election, call the Linn County Auditor’s Office at (319) 892-5300.

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

RSS Linn County Auditor on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Brent Oleson on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Ben Rogers on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Chuck Grassley on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Adam Belz on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.