By Don Thomas
In late August, Mayor Ron Corbett asked me if I would chair the Fix the Streets Committee. I agreed, and we held our first meeting Aug. 23.
The purpose of our committee was to contact businesses and ask them to join us in promoting the vote for the renewal of the one-cent local-option sales tax.
Those on the committee also included Shawn Lueth, vice chair, and Kim Reed, treasurer, along with George Kanz, James Lee, Corbett, and City Council members Ann Poe and Justin Shields.
A local-option sales tax is the best way to repair and maintain our streets because the users will pay these costs. Those living outside Cedar Rapids who use our roads will participate by paying this sales tax when buying locally.
I would like to review the history from 1994 to the present as I know it from my being the city’s Streets and Public Improvements commissioner from 1994-2005. The following compares the moneys available between 2002 and 2014 (for fiscal year budgets approved by city commissioners for 2002 and 2005 and then the City Council in 2014):
Operating budget: $15.3 million in 2002, $15.8 million in 2005, $20.9 million in 2014.
Streets maintenance (70 percent of budget): $10.7 million in 2002, $11.1 million in 2005, $14.63 million in 2014.
Snow plowing (30 percent of budget): $4.6 million in 2002, $4.7 million in 2005, $6.27 million in 2014.
Meanwhile, state Road Use Tax revenue coming to the city was $9.7 million in 2002, $10.1 million in 2005 and $12.1 million in 2014.
During this same time period, the cost of materials, including asphalt, concrete and sand, all increased from 50 percent to more than 100 percent. Labor costs, vehicle maintenance and fuel also have increased. For example, in 2004, we paid $63 a cubic yard for concrete and $32 a ton for hot-mix asphalt; in 2013, it’s $82 and $72, respectively. In 2004, seal-coat oil cost 66 cents per gallon, and this year it’s $2.37 per gallon.
In order to keep up with our maintenance needs, it would take $20 million to $30 million every year. It is obvious with this tremendous shortfall that each year we fall further behind.
The city receives state Road Use Fax funds and this money must by law be spent on streets. This tax revenue hasn’t changed much, while inflation has caused other factors to increase.
Our streets’ average age is more than 50 years old and 40 percent of our streets are in poor condition. Without the renewal of the sales tax, the city will be forced to borrow more or allow deterioration to continue.
For the people who live outside of Cedar Rapids but work here, travel our streets and purchase goods and services, the sales tax renewal is an opportunity for them to participate while reducing the burden of street repairs on Cedar Rapids’ property tax payers.
The renewal of the tax for 10 years is a fiscally responsible way of paying for streets without falling further behind. Dollars raised by the tax are bound by language on the ballot and must be spent on streets.
I encourage everyone to vote Nov. 5 and vote in favor of the sales tax renewal. It will be the best way for us to catch up on our road maintenance needs.
l Don Thomas of Cedar Rapids is a former city commissioner and is chair of the Fix the Streets Committee. Comments: (319) 651-6242.