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LOST would improve city roads

BY NICHOLAS MOFFITT | OCTOBER 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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The ballot option for a 1 cent sales-tax increase in Johnson County would change Iowa City’s streets in a big way.

According to an International City/County Management Association resident survey, only 37 percent of Iowa City residents rated street repairs as good or excellent, far below the national benchmark for communities.

The tax increase, if passed by all Johnson County jurisdictions, would bring around $20 million to the county with between $9 million to $10 million projected for Iowa City.

The council approved the ballot measure that would give 50 percent of the revenue that Iowa City receives from the tax to street and trail improvements.

If passed, the measure would require 50 percent of the revenue to go to street improvement every single year, said Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager.

“The 50 percent is required by the ballot language,” he said. “It will always be that percentage, but the revenue can change.”

Using the estimated numbers, the portion received for street improvements would be around $45 milion to 60 million over the life of the 10-year tax increase.

The city currently gets its street-repair funding from the road-use tax fund, which gets around $600,000 per year from road-use tax paid by people at the gas pump.

The road-use tax is currently 22 cents per gallon, but it hasn’t been adjusted since 1989, which has really hurt street repairs, said city Public Works Director Rick Fosse.

“The gas tax doesn’t adjust; it’s still in 1989 dollars,” he said. “That has a significant impact on street maintenance.”

Fosse said in past years, the city worked on 10 to 20 asphalt overlay projects. That number has been decreased to just one project this year.

Street maintenance, if deferred long enough, as Iowa City has done in recent years, he said, can result in more expensive repairs and other secondary effects.

The city creates a list every year of street-maintenance projects it would like to complete every year, and Fosse said the sales tax would greatly increase the amount of work the city is able to get done every year.

He said it is possible the street repair program budget could quadruple with the increase. But he urged people to be cautious, and because some repairs’ effect will not be noticeable right away.

“We can expect them to improve over time,” he said. “But it’s going to take awhile to catch up.”
Surrounding towns in Johnson County are also looking at heavily improving their streets with the potential increase in revenue.

Swisher Mayor Christopher Taylor said for small towns, streets are something always at the forefront.

Swisher would use 100 percent of the funds, if the sales tax is passed, for the general fund to be used for city improvements and street improvements, according to the ballot language, Taylor said.

“[Streets are] something to correct as quickly as possible,” he said.

Taylor said the $116,000 potentially added to road repairs in Swisher would be huge.

Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims said if the local-option sales tax doesn’t pass, it could significantly delay street fixes.

“What it does is delay projects,” she said. “We have a list of capital-improvement projects, a lot of them unfunded on that list.”

Mims said if the tax doesn’t pass, a lot of those projects would remain unfunded.

Fruin said how Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin and University Heights vote would determine a lot for the whole county.

“Everything kind of hinges on the bloc of five,” he said.


Local-Option Sales Tax

The local-option sales tax, which will be on the general-election ballot, will allocate funding to several different areas.

The Daily Iowan will delve into a four-part series on what this tax means, and how the funding will be distributed.

• Monday: What does Local-Option Sales Tax mean
Today: Streets and roadways
• Wednesday: Property tax
• Thursday: Affordable housing


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