Cedar Rapids Flood Victims Still Struggling

Cedar Rapids Flood Victims Still Struggling

submitted by Lisa Kuzela

This week, August 29, marks the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This summer, June 13, Iowans marked their own disaster anniversary.  Over one year after more than 5,000 Cedar Rapids homes were virtually destroyed and thousands were were driven from their homes in Cedar Rapids, flood victims are still struggling with putting their lives back together.  Here's a report from Lisa Kuzela, who lost her home in the flood.

by Lisa Kuzela

The background to this very serious issue that faces the flood victims of Cedar Rapids:
1. Iowa state law sets our assessments to be done on odd years.  Whatever our assessed value is January 1, 2007, it will be the same January 1, 2008.
2.  Our property taxes are paid one year in arrears.  The tax bill received and due in September 2009 and March 2010 is for the period of July 1, 2008 – June 30, 2009.  This is AFTER the flood when thousands of homes were destroyed.
3.  NONE of our elected or hired officials from the city, county, or state governments either had the foresight or felt it necessary to fix this problem!
4.  By law, the county has the option to abate the properties either at 100%, 50%, or just the structure.
5.  The taxing entities that will be hurt the worst from this is the city (receives ~42% of the taxes) and school district (receives ~38%).  They will make recommendations to the county.
How this could have been resolved beforehand:

1) I was in regular contact with our officials this last year and during the legislative session.  I brought this issue to their attention and pleaded with them to “earmark” CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money to pay for the lost tax revenue from the flooded properties.  (Or ask from FEMA or something!)  I was ignored.  We are now paying the price and in the 11th hour just before our taxes are due, our officials are FINALLY just now talking about it!
2) Our state legislators could have also changed the law so that properties that sustained damage in disasters could be reassessed on even years.  We all have our post-flood (much lower) assessments of January 1, 2009, but the county cannot use them because Iowa State law forbids it.
One should know that flood victims were not allowed to live in their own home post-flood until the City said they could (by getting inspections that approve it).  Many lost their home completely and are waiting to be bought out.  Most are in more debt than they've ever been while seniors have spent their lifelong savings and retirement either rehabbing or buying a new more costly home, since the affordable housing is now gone from the flood.
Solution:  The only legal and moral thing to do is to abate these properties for the entire tax year.  For the current fiscal year, the City can use local option funds and the school district has cash reserve funds to cover.  In the meantime, our local and state officials should be asking for reimbursements to cover these lost tax revenues, as well as those lost in the upcoming fiscal years.  The City alone has spent over five million dollars in consultants, but don't think they should abate our properties?

From: njdimaggio…
To: J.Prosser@cedar-rapids.org
Sent: Tue, Aug 11, 2009 10:42 pm
Subject: Abate our property taxes

Dear Mr. Prosser,
Thank you for your quick response with the information I requested.
I want to make a very serious proposal to you and the City Council.  I attended the County Board of Supervisors' meeting yesterday regarding property taxes.  Flood victims have suffered more than you know financially (not to mention physically, mentally, and emotionally).  WE are the bread and butter to this community.  We need to be taken care of much better than the leadership has done thus far.
I am asking this city to support the abatement of flood-affected properties of those buildings that were uninhabitable for over a month.  This excludes those that were only flooded in the basement.  Homes that were rehabbed should be included in this, as they put an infinite amount of time and sweat into helping to bring back our community; they should be rewarded, not punished.  They are still paying their debt for that, in addition to losing savings and retirement in the process, due to the incompetence of the residential Jumpstart administrator this city hired.
Please utilize this L.O.S.T. money to pay for the estimated $2.5 million (or whatever it may be) that it would take for the city to do this.
1) It falls under both the category of property tax relief, as well as flood-impacted housing needs as listed on the ballot initiative.
2) It is NOT a duplication of benefits, because those taxes have not yet been paid.
3) The value of our properties that we are being charged is not anywhere near accurate to that which it is valued.  The property tax bills that we received were based upon the value of the property prior to the flood, even though our (city) assessments have been amended to reflect the estimated value post-flood for the upcoming 2009 year.
4)  If we are charged taxes for property values based prior to the flood, it is unconstitutional and a clear example of modern day “taxation without representation.”  
5)  Add to that the further harassment of our flood victims at a time that is most catastrophic for families and individuals.
We should not be punished for the complacency of our local and county officials to lobby for us, specifically for a change in state law to be able to reassess our property values (on even years) after which a disaster of this magnitude has occurred.  We should not be punished for the incompetence of our legislators to pass bills that would help us, the residential flood victim.
Please, I beg you to help the average taxpaying flood victim in this community that you have taken charge over.  Your efforts in helping us in this matter will be very much appreciated!  Thank you.
Lisa Kuzela
Cedar Rapids, Ia

Kuzela is a flood victim and community activist.  She has been a
passionate advocate for flood victims.  Currently on the Cedar Rapids
School Board, she has withdrawn her candidacy for re-election to focus
her efforts on flood relief.

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