There are better options to fund flood protection for our city

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April 3, 2014 | 1:39 pm

By Frank King and Eric Rosenthal

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Discussion surrounding the local-option sales tax vote has been one-sided. The expenditure of $600,000 campaigning for the tax is seen by many who have invested in the downtown as an economical way to protect that investment. Over 10 years, taxpayers will put up $3,000 per household in local taxes and $4,000 in state and federal taxes for a flood protection plan that is yet to be determined.

Taxpayers also will be spending $2,000 in local taxes per household and $4,000 in state and federal taxes to rebuild a hotel complex and other projects. Total spending is $13,000 per household over a decade and the local burden would skyrocket even higher if federal involvement slackens!

The question should be asked: Is this the best course of action?

Two mayors and three City Councils have worked extremely hard to rebuild our city. Personal attacks between the two sides that displace discussion are counterproductive. Whether the tax passes or fails, there should be openness and dialogue regarding the planned expenditure of $700 million, rather than decisions hidden by clever legal mechanisms.The sales tax oversight committee is powerless, apparently by design.

Last summer, Cedar Rapids Extended Sales Tax (CREST) Committee Chairman Gary Ficken indicated there would be no compromise on the 10-year tax for flood protection. His argument was apparently buttressed by campaign polling data indicating voters would be more likely to vote solely for flood protection. We have not disagreed that we need flood protection, and have proposed a compromise position for a change of use in the current tax (two years remaining) plus a five-year extension.Those petitions have been circulating since the beginning of the year and are available at WeCanDoBetterCR.com.

Differences between our proposals start with the specificity of the ballot language. Tuesday’s ballot uses 23 words and was derived from a petition that had only 55 words. “Flood protection” has been broadly defined since the current tax was passed. The March 6 ballot would provide little restraint to future City Councils. Our petition uses over 250 words and would be applied much more stringently.

Whereas the current ballot gives no definition as to what constitutes “flood protection,” our proposed language dictates specific steps that rely on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recommendations, as well as our city’s past practices: protecting our city’s water supply, dredging the river and fixing our sewer system to prevent future flooding. (Most of the flooding over the last century has occurred through our sewers.)

Only after these critical flood-protection measures are finished, should discussions begin about protecting the city from a less likely event like the 2008 flood.

We want the city to heal from the flood of 2008. Many flood victims see the manner in which flood protection has been carried out to be purely for the purpose of redevelopment by favored businesses. We don’t disagree that redevelopment is critical. But a city is not the buildings. A city is the people.

When hundreds of former homes of flood victims, now city-owned, are handed out for free to favored non-profits and businesses, this drives down market prices for the homes of flood victims that chose to remain and rebuild. That is wrong. When flood victims’ homes are demolished long before they are paid, that is wrong. When flood victims are put at risk financially by city decisions, that is wrong.When flood victims are used as decoys to accomplish projects previously rejected by voters, that is wrong.

Our coalition of Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans and flood victims invites you to join our call for Cedar Rapids to do better when it comes to healing our city.

Frank King, chairman of Citizens for Responsible Public Spending, served as president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association (Time Check) during the flood, and is a flood victim. Eric Rosenthal serves as chairman of WeCanDoBetterCR.com. Comments: ericann

rosenthal@aol.com or frankking35@gmail.com

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