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Local
Cedar Valley Nature Trail part of national trail plan

WATERLOO — Waterloo and Cedar Falls could get a tourism boost from a planned 4,000-mile national bike trail.

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which runs 67 miles along an old railroad line from Evansdale to Ely, would be one of 12 gateway trails that would anchor a proposed 4,000-mile national bike trail, spurring excitement from local leaders.

The Washington, D.C.-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy announced earlier this year its vision for the proposed Great American Rail-Trail. The east-west bike trail would be “an unprecedented commitment to creating an iconic piece of American infrastructure.”

The Great American Rail-Trail aims to be “100 percent off-street” and multi-use for bikers and walkers across the country, said Kevin Belanger, a trail planner for Rails-to-Trails.

Locally, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail connects to trail systems in Waterloo and Cedar Falls and passes through Gilbertville and La Porte City on its way to Cedar Rapids and Ely.

Nationally, the Great American Rail-Trail would extend through 12 states and the District of Columbia, traveling through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland before reaching Washington, D.C.

Kim Manning, manager of the Cedar Falls Tourism and Visitors Bureau, said the Cedar Valley has already gotten a marketing boost from the project, which included a feature article about the local trail system in a recent issue of Rails-to-Trails magazine.

“I think this is a very exicting development,” Manning said. “This is going to be hopefully a coast-to-coast trail that will bring people through. We’re right in the middle of the country, and I think we would stand to benefit substantially.”

Manning noted the Cedar Valley Nature Trail also serves as the northern point of the American Discovery Trail.

“It think we’re a ways off from this being a reality,” she said. “But they were attracted to our area because we’re well developed and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail was one of the first rail trails, so we have that notoriety.”

More than half the trail would rely on established trail systems including the 11-mile Capital Crescent Trail in Washington, D.C., and Maryland; the 185-mile Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Washington, D.C., and Maryland; the 29-mile Panhandle Trail in Pennsylvania and West Virginia; the 270-mile Ohio to Erie Trail in Ohio; the 61-mile Cardinal Greenway in Indiana; 100-plus mile Hennepin Canal Parkway in Illinois; 52 miles of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Iowa; the 219-mile Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail in Nebraska; the 6-mile Casper Rail Trail in Wyoming; the 12-mile Headwaters Trail System in Montana; the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho; and the 200-mile Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail in Washington.

Existing trails and a desire to avoid the desert naturally guided the route to the northwest, and the trail infrastructure in Iowa and the popularity of RAGBRAI made Iowa a good fit, Belanger said.

“The Great American Rail-Trail is a bold vision — one that will take years to complete,” Keith Laughlin, Rails-to-Trails president, said in a news release. “The investment of time and resources necessary to complete this trail will be returned many times over as it takes its place among the country’s national treasures.”

It would be the “single greatest trail project in the history of the U.S.,” he said.

The route was selected over an 18-month review, but the concept is decades old. A full route map is expected to be announced in May.


Local
Evansdale approves 20 percent tax hike after contentious public hearing

Deutsch

EVANSDALE — As Steve Seible spoke against his city raising the tax rate by more than 22 percent, he was backed by applause from the packed council chambers.

“Let’s be fiscally responsible,” he implored his fellow Evansdale City Council members Tuesday night. “I will not vote for this budget.”

But when it came time to vote on the fiscal year 2020 budget, which goes into effect July 1, Seible was the lone dissenter.

The council agreed the city needed a big boost in funds on a vote of 4-1, despite a contentious public hearing.

The vote will raise the city’s portion of the tax rate from $8.10 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $9.71, boosting Evansdale’s overall property tax collection by $220,000 to keep from having to lay off essential personnel like police officers, said Mayor Doug Faas.

“Here’s what you get for the dollars you pay: 24-hour police protection, 24-hour fire protection,” Faas said, running through a list of city services and noting employee benefits were a big chunk of the city’s budget. “I think you’re getting a pretty good deal.”

Ward 4 council member Dick Dewater agreed, comparing the tax rate with other household expenses.

“I have a thousand dollar tax bill. I pay more for my cell phone,” he said. “For fire protection, police protection, streets — it sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”

Several in the audience disagreed.

“My concern overall is this seems to be one of the larger jumps,” said Justin Smock, a firefighter. “What is being done to make sure we manage this so that it isn’t as large of a jump in the future?”

Faas noted the city could put off reconstructing Lafayette Road, and said the city has set up four escrow accounts to put money into and use during lean times.

“We are trying to plan for the future as best we can with limited resources,” Faas said.

Resident Mark Atkins complained the tax rate has gone up before, but he hasn’t seen any benefits or service increases.

“Other people’s tax dollars go to improvements. The Heights hasn’t gotten crap,” said Atkins. “There’s been no improvements in the Fourth Ward. People want our share of stuff too.”

Chad Deutsch, a former mayor of Evansdale himself, said he knew Faas and the council were tied to the “whipping post,” but pointed out a lot of older adults chose to live in Evansdale because they can’t afford high taxes.

“You should consider the people on fixed incomes — they don’t get 3 percent raises,” Deutsch said, noting the fact city employee salary increases were included in the 2020 budget. “They might not even have proper diets, their prescriptions keep getting higher. ... Parks are great. Diets are better. (Older adults) can’t get lost in the margins.”

“You’re getting raises, but we pay it,” said Amy Deutsch.

Faas defended his budget process, noting the city looked at dipping into reserves as well as cutting two positions, likely “in public safety,” to stay at the $8.10 rate.

“But then, what is that measure of safety to me?” Faas asked. “The reality is, costs go up in everything. We have to be able to pay for this, or we have to cut employees.”

Ward 2 council member Gene Walker said he was one of those on a fixed income, too.

“Do I want my taxes to go up $300? No,” he said. “But I can’t move anywhere else and have the same quality of life as I do here.”

A residential property owner will see the city’s share of their tax bill jump more than 22 percent, while commercial and industrial property owners will see the city tax bill grow nearly 20 percent.


KEVIN E. SCHMIDT KSCHMIDT@QCTIMES.COM 

Cedar Falls Jack Campbell (44) takes a jump shot during Tuesday night's IHSAA Class 4A game against Sioux City East at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines Tuesday, March 5, 2019.


Govt-and-politics
Waterloo mayor unveils his budget plan

WATERLOO — Mayor Quentin Hart broke his silence just two days before the city’s budget hearing.

Hart unveiled his budget proposal Tuesday for the fiscal year starting July 1, calling for a slight increase in property taxes but adding funding to keep Fire Station No. 6 open full time and employ another mechanic in the city’s struggling central garage.

The mayor’s input has been conspicuously absent during a series of Waterloo City Council budget work sessions over the past two weeks in advance of public hearing slated for 5:30 p.m. Thursday in City Hall.

But he said his proposal includes input he’s heard from council members during those meetings.

“I tried to come in between the middle of folks,” Hart said.

The proposed budget calls for overall property tax collection to increase through a combination of higher property valuations and a bump in the tax rate.

The property tax rate would grow from $17.46 to $17.55 per $1,000 of taxable value, which equates to a 2.9 percent increase in the city’s share of a residential property tax bill next fall. Commercial and industrial tax bills would climb a half percent.

Hart’s proposed budget includes a hiring freeze of 120 days to replace employees who leave or retire, which is estimated to save about $250,000.

It does not include an additional police officer sought by Chief Dan Trelka, but does include more overtime for Waterloo Fire Rescue to avoid periodic shutdowns of the firehouse near Ansborough and Ridgeway avenues.

Hart added $80,000 to restructure the legal department following the pending retirement of City Attorney Dave Zellhoefer, which was less than the $200,000 originally included in the budget.

He also is planning to use $350,000 of the city’s cash reserves to lower the tax increase. That is less than the $710,000 of reserves used to balance the current budget but still goes against the recommendation of Chief Financial Officer Michelle Weidner.

“It’s painful,” Weidner said. “But it’s lower than we have been proposing recently.”

Councilwoman Margaret Klein thanked Hart for his budget but voiced some concern over using general fund reserves.

“I’m always dismayed when we have to take money … out of the rainy day fund,” Klein said. “Ever since I got here it seems to be a rainy day, because we took it out last year. I look forward to a year when we work hard not to have to do that.”

Councilman Jerome Amos Jr. said he supported Hart’s plan, and Councilman Bruce Jacobs said he appreciated the proposal.

“It seems like you worked to put all of our thoughts into a compromise,” Jacobs told Hart.

Councilman Pat Morrissey said he planned to offer a different proposal Thursday, intending to add back some services to several departments which were cut in recent years, including the library, Center for the Arts and Human Rights Commission.