Linn County mayors urge residents to vote ‘yes’ to extending local option sales tax

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Linn County mayors and other officials are asking voters to extend the local option sales tax used to fund street repair and construction, in addition to other infrastructure projects.

Voters in Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Robins and Fairfax should expect to see the referendum on the ballot this November. A majority of residents in the voting bloc must vote in favor for the measure to pass. Residents in unincorporated Linn County will also be asked about extending the tax, with the outcome decided separately from the metro voting bloc.

Mayors from each of the cities and Linn County Supervisors spoke in favor of extending the tax for another 10 years during a news conference on Wednesday held at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

Communities focused on improving infrastructure are communities that are “going to win when it comes to economic development and jobs,” Ron Corbett said. Corbett is the Metro Economic Alliance’s business retention and expansion strategist, and a former Cedar Rapids mayor.

“I can assure you that good streets, good infrastructure, efficient transportation system is critical when it comes to our efforts to recruit new businesses to our communities, and especially help those existing businesses grow and expand,” Corbett said.

Corbett campaigned in favor of the tax when he was mayor of Cedar Rapids.

Residents in the metro area voting bloc of Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Robins and Fairfax voted in favor of the 1 percent sales tax in 2013 after turning down the measure in 2011 and 2012. About 62 percent of residents voted in favor of the 10-year extension.

The sales tax went into effect in July 2014 and expires June 30, 2024, unless it’s renewed. Even though the current tax doesn’t expire for another three years, officials are putting it on this year’s ballot so there are no delays for future projects or ones that are currently underway.

Supervisor Louie Zumbach said on Wednesday that the tax brings benefits for both rural and urban residents. For rural residents, about $6 million in tax revenue are split up to go toward conservation, lowering property taxes and improving roads, Zumbach said.

He added that it is also important for residents to realize that Cedar Rapids is a “business shopping hub of our community.”

“It’s just a plus for anybody that lives here to vote for this,” said Zumbach, who represents District 3. “… This is extremely important for the rural residents, as it is for urban residents, and I urge you to support it.”

Cities will be working on their ballot language over the coming months, Corbett said, adding that there will also be a campaign committee working on educating voters on why they should vote in favor of the tax.

Corbett said between all jurisdictions about $31 million a year should be available, and this estimate does not account for inflation. Once the money is divided per city, it is up to the individual cities to decide what projects the funds will be allocated toward.

In Cedar Rapids, the funds are used solely for maintenance, repair and construction of the city’s streets through a program called Paving for Progress. About $122 million of Paving for Progress funds have been used to repair the city’s streets, Mayor Brad Hart said.

“I think by now Cedar Rapids residents should be confident that these tax dollars are being used wisely and solely for our streets,” Hart said. “While we made progress, a lot of progress, in the last seven or eight years, there’s still more work to be done.”

The city receives about $18.5 million each year from residents and visitors who shop and dine in the community. About 30 percent of the funds are from individuals who don’t live in Cedar Rapids, Hart said.

This is nearly triple the amount of money the city was investing on street repairs prior to the program. Before Paving for Progress, the city was spending about $5.5 million on street repair and maintenance.

More than 200 projects have already been completed in the city, and 66 linear miles of roads have been improved, Hart said. About 70 percent of the projects have been in residential neighborhoods with the other 30 percent being arterial roads.

“An extension of the sales tax will allow us to keep progress going forward, and if we haven’t been to your neighborhood yet, extending the sales tax will dramatically increase likelihood that we get to your street over the last many years,” Hart said. “… We’re anxious to put this on the ballot, and we’re going to encourage everyone to vote ‘yes’ on Nov. 2.”