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Cedar Rapids City Council decides without comment how it will spend the last $30 million in LOST funds — as matching funds for city building projects and flood protection

Rick Smith, CR Gazette –

CEDAR RAPIDS — Without comment or mention that the matter was on its agenda, the nine-member City Council last night unanimously approved how it will spend most of what will be left of the revenue from the city’s local-option sales tax before the tax expires on June 30, 2014.

In approving the LOST spending measure along with an assortment of minor matters as part of the council agenda, the council divvied up $30 million in funds.

Of that amount, $15.635 million will go to fill spending gaps on city flood-recovery building projects. Another $1.2 million will be used to pay for part of the city’s share of the Army Corps of Engineers’ current pre-construction design and engineering work for the city’s proposed east-side flood protection system. And $13.165 million will be used to cover unknown project costs and as local matching funds needed to secure money from a newly created state fund to help communities build flood protection.

After last night’s meeting, Mayor Ron Corbett said he had commented publicly late last week about what the council intended to do with the last $30 million in sales-tax revenue so there was no need to discuss it at last night’s meeting.

He said the local sales tax, which began to be collected on April 1, 2009, for a period of 63 months, is three years old now and he said the council has spent what it has taken in to date as it said it would — to help flood victims, to help with the renovation of flood-damaged homes and to match federal dollars for flood recovery.

He called last night’s vote on how to spend the remainder of the money “the closing of the book” on LOST.

Twice in the last year — last May 3 and this March 6 — voters turned down a request to extend the tax to provide local funds to help build flood protection on both sides of the Cedar River, and Corbett last night said some of the vocal opponents of the tax extension had called on the City Council to spend some of the remaining revenue from the current tax on flood protection.

“So we’re responding by spending revenue from the fifth year of the tax on flood protection,” Corbett said.

The sales tax has been bringing in about $17 million a year for flood-related programs and another 10 percent of the total for property-tax relief.

Council member Kris Gulick said last night’s council vote on LOST was an important one even if it did not generate council discussion. He said the council had talked long and publicly from the start that it would use some of the LOST revenue to fill funding gaps to pay for what the Federal Emergency Management Agency wouldn’t pay.

“That was one of our plans we had from Day 1,” Gulick said. “We knew we would have gaps, and rather than use property taxes, we knew the local-option sales tax would be one of the options.”

Council member Chuck Swore last night said the council has discussed LOST enough.

“Every time we’ve talked about LOST (in public) we’re in trouble,” Swore added. “So why toss it out for something else for somebody to say, ‘Oh now, they’re….’

“We’ve been accused of taking the money ourselves and we’ve been accused of having a corrupt government all because of LOST. You get to the point where what do we want to talk about LOST for. It’s a lost subject. We’re at the end. We’re going to get it done and we’re going to move on.”

Of the $15.635 million set aside for city building projects, $10.9 million will go to city’s new public works facility with the rest spent in various amounts to fill funding gaps for the Ground Transportation Center bus depot, the levee portion of the riverfront amphitheater, City Hall renovations, the new Time Check Recreation Center and demolition of the First Street Parkade. The NewBo City Market is getting $500,000 of the total.

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