The tone was cordial and the positions on issues different last night as two-term District 1 council member Kris Gulick and challengers Ajai Dittmar and Clark Rieke met at a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Linn County.
Gulick, 55, a certified public accountant and owner of a business consulting service, said a central promise of his hasn’t changed from his first council campaign eight years ago: He said he will study each side of issues and make decisions based on facts. He said his professional background gives him expertise in city fiscal matters and an understanding of the city’s need for long-term financial planning.
Dittmar, 42, a mother who manages a website called CR Smells, said she is not a politician, but someone whose relative youth can help energize the council and get it “back to the basics.” She said she will be a voice for smaller government and for those who haven’t been heard.
Rieke, 66, a retired Realtor, returned a number of times to a theme of a strong central core and downtown and he said the city needed a better balance so there is not too much growth on the city edges.
Both Gulick, of 2103 Linmar Dr. NE, and Rieke, of 1614 D Ave. NE, said the city should build a permanent flood-protection system while Dittmar, of 1426 First St. NW, called on the city to dredge the river to clean it up and to provide more room for water in the river channel.
Gulick said the city invested much time and money in 2008 with the help the Army Corps of Engineers and other engineering experts to come up with a $375 million preferred flood-protection plan that will be 98 percent effective. He said dredging would cost $26 million, provide 2 percent effectiveness and need to be repeatedly done. Upstream reservoirs would cost $1 billion with 48 percent effectiveness, he said. Rieke said improvements upstream could help protect Cedar Rapids.
Rieke and Gulick both said they backed the extension of the city’s 1-percent local-option sales tax for 10 years, though Rieke said the city must make sure it didn’t ignore flood protection as it fixes streets. Dittmar opposed the tax extension and said the city has enough money to fix the streets now.
Dittmar also said the city should build fewer trails, bike lanes and streetscapes and should use the money on streets, to which Rieke said he agreed. Gulick said the city’s commitment to trails and bike lanes is a quality-of-life amenity that people want. He said such investment is in line with the community’s Blue Zone wellness initiative.
Dittmar and Rieke both criticized some recent City Hall decisions. Dittmar said the city built too many new public buildings, such as the new public works building, used federal disaster money as if it were free money and took on too much debt in the process. Rieke called the City Hall decision to close Second Avenue SE for the Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa a “legacy mistake” that hurts traffic flow into downtown. The city should have built the new central fire station on a less valuable piece of commercial property, he said.
Gulick applauded a new city program to clean up nuisance properties and to assess fees to landlords and homeowners who don’t comply. Rieke said he wanted to see more housing inspections, which he said would raise the value of properties in the city. Taxes generated by the increased value would pay for the inspections, he said.
Rieke also said the city would benefit from a full-time City Council instead of a part-time one until the flood protection is in place. He said, too, that the city would not need a casino if existing casinos shipped revenue back to the places from where gamblers come. They should count license plates in casino parking lots and share revenue accordingly, he said.
Most of council District 1 is in northeast Cedar Rapids west of Council Street NE and west of Oakland Road NE. It also includes the Mount Mercy University area and a northwest Cedar Rapids voting precinct.
Last night’s hourlong event with an audience of about 50 was held at the First Presbyterian Church, 310 Fifth St. SE. The election — in which six of nine council seats are up for a vote as is the question to extend the city’s local-option sales tax for 10 years to fix streets — is Nov. 5.
In a second candidate forum, Mayor Ron Corbett and challenger Greg Hughes, who has run recent, long-shot campaigns for Congress and governor, will face off at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the downtown library.