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What’s next for Cedar Rapids? City council members talk through priorities for 2021


View of downtown Cedar Rapids — Jason Smith/Little Village

The Cedar Rapids City Council met virtually on Tuesday for a special session focused on key priorities for the upcoming year.

“This is a great opportunity for the city council members, the mayor and staff to talk about priorities, and it’s particularly opportune with some of the challenges that we’ve certainly seen this year, whether it’s COVID-19 or the derecho,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said at the beginning of the meeting.

The council typically decides on four to six priorities for the year, Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said. Pomeranz said the priorities are taken “extremely seriously” and “are not just words on a piece of paper.”

Last fall, the council decided on five priorities.

• Determine a funding strategy to complete the flood control system as quickly as possible, including federal funding, city debt capacity and county support

• Continue to update the greenery plan and identify funding opportunities for construction of the enhanced greenery system

• Supporting housing initiatives to create a mix of affordable options, meet emerging gaps and use competitive advantages to secure larger market-share of the housing construction

• Continue to pursue partnerships with schools, nonprofits to enhance youth and senior services and explore opportunities for new facilities

• Focus resources on targeted development opportunities, including analysis of barriers to investment and area planning to promote private development

Mayor Brad Hart and some of the council members said there’s still work to be done on the five priorities from last year.

“I think that’s why they were key priorities. They weren’t necessarily things that could all be accomplished within a year,” Hart said. “… Parts of them have been accomplished, and there’s more to do.”

As councilmembers discussed possible priorities for the upcoming year, there were three main themes that were brought up: derecho recovery, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social justice initiatives.

Councilmember Tyler Olson said it will be important to narrow down these three issues as the council is discussing priorities. He suggested applying the three issues to the priorities council decides on.

“For example, you look at supporting housing initiatives,” Olson said. “There’s a lot of housing that we need to replace from the storm, from the derecho. So, to me, I think it makes some sense … to narrow it down and look at what within there we need to make priorities.”

Councilmembers Ashley Vanorny and Ann Poe echoed that housing needs to remain a priority. Poe said the derecho “showed our weak spots in some of our housing for affordable housing.”

Vanorny added that a focus on climate change and the city’s climate action plan is important too in light of the derecho’s impact on the city’s tree canopy. The city lost about 65 percent of its trees due to the storm.

Councilmember Marty Hoeger said the council should look at what residents still need when it comes to recovering from the derecho storm.

Councilmembers Scott Olson and Dale Todd both brought up the lasting impacts from the pandemic the city will see on housing, the economy and local businesses.

“I don’t think we have any idea of where we’re going to be at in terms of the disaster, COVID, and more importantly, the economy,” Todd said. “I’m really concerned with our retail. …. This winter is going to be incredibly tough, and some simply aren’t going to get through it. And that’s in nobody’s best interest, but it’s going to sort of determine how our community develops here down the road.”

Councilmembers also discussed the importance of staying on top of the social justice movement and building off of the actions they’ve already taken. A specific issue councilmembers brought up is gun violence.

Todd said he believes the city has taken necessary steps so that next year “we will really be able to have a strategic and focused approach to how we deal with” gun violence.

“I think under the umbrella of this gun violence issue and coupling that with how do we make things safer for everybody in our community,” Todd said.

Tyler Olson said he would like to see a specific mention of gun violence in the council’s list.

Pratt said city staff will go through the various comments councilmembers made and edit some of the existing priorities “to include some of these initiatives.” She said it’s also possible there could be a sixth priority added. Once city staff edits the priorities, councilmembers will be able to give additional feedback before the list becomes public.


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