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Iowa City makes plans for stimulus

BY AMANDA MCCLURE | FEBRUARY 17, 2009 7:40 AM

Cities throughout Iowa are set to receive a portion of the $1.9 billion expected to flow into the state from the national stimulus package, though constraints in the bill have set limitations for desired projects in Iowa City.

Funds for the local endeavors will be decided based on the project’s timeliness — not necessarily its importance, Mayor Regenia Bailey said.

“The money will of course help us with all of the budget constraints the city is facing,” she said.

“We’re still deciding on which projects will be paid for with stimulus dollars; there are a few issues with project eligibility so we have to hold back some of our hopeful choices.”

In order for a project to be eligible for stimulus funds, it must be quick and easy to complete. A planning committee is currently assembling a list of projects that can be quickly added to the stimulus package.

“I think this stimulus money is great, and we’re grateful,” Bailey said. “But there are a number of additional operations that we’d like to do that we can’t take advantage of because of stimulus constraints.”

The state requested a list of qualified projects in Iowa City that could be quickly approved and completed, such as re-paving roads and curb replacements, she said. The city has been working to improve First Avenue, a heavily trafficked area, with a grade elevation that would alleviate issues from the railroad crossing — a project the mayor said would have to wait and be completely funded by the city.

The Iowa City City Council has sought federal funding for the $6 million project in the past, but has yet to receive the money. The council has recently proposed three different tax options, such as a one-cent sales tax increase, increased property taxes, and a local option income tax.

If the initiatives pass, money generated would be put toward capital projects, such as building a fourth fire station, elevating Dubuque Street, and reconstructing the Park Road bridge.

“The constant traffic in that area is something everyone in Iowa City understands,” Bailey said.
Bailey also noted the project would increase traffic safety and decrease constant pollution from idling cars.

In addition to funding for city operations, Iowa City will also see a portion of the $395 million the state has allocated for education.

“Any funding would obviously be welcomed and put to good use,” Iowa City School Board President Toni Cilek said. “But now there’s no sense of direction on where the money will go.”

An additional $1.2 million has specifically been set aside for special-education projects. Early drafts of the bill proposed by the Iowa House and Senate reserved as much as $70,000 toward school construction, but the latest draft has left that out of divided funds.

Building and updating facilities will be key for the district, Cilek said, naming it as one of the most prominent plans for the money.

Two areas of interest for Iowa City schools would be special education and facilities updates, she said.

Creating more jobs would also be a priority, she said, noting that the stimulus package is designed for economic growth.

“Increased employment would be an extremely positive method for the money,” Cilek said. “That’s one of the areas I can foresee the largest impact.”

The Iowa City School District employs 498 teachers in 16 schools.

Despite uncertainty about where the money will go once it moves through the state, Cilek said, any additional funds would be greatly welcomed.

“That money has the potential to help up across multiple areas of the district,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.”


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