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O’Donnell: use portion of $28 million for small business/non-profits

At a mayoral forum last weekend, I announced my idea for the city to designate a portion of the money coming to Cedar Rapids through the American Recovery Act to local non-profits and struggling small businesses. Non-profits missed out on critical funds from the hotel-motel tax last year and our small businesses have been impacted by closures due to the pandemic. It’s critical that we not forget them as we start to recover.

On Monday, I’m thrilled to see that the U.S. Department of the Treasury officially announced the release of the funds! Cedar Rapids will get $28 million. The “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds,” gives the city flexibility in how it spends the money which means we have an opportunity to do tremendous good for our community.

The city needs to be creative and forward looking in how they will use the funds. We should look at this as an opportunity to recover as well position ourselves for growth. Let’s invest in our community so we come out of this pandemic ready for a brighter future.

First, I’m calling on the city to use a portion of these funds to help local non-profits that missed critical city funding during the pandemic. In recent years, the hotel-motel tax provided about $1.5 million annually to 22 local non-profits. The city should help these non-profits by distributing the missed 2020 funds and a similar amount for 2021 to ensure these organizations continue to do the work our community needs.

Next, I believe the city should create a fund of at least $5 million to be used for support and development of local small businesses owned by women and minorities. These funds should be used to help struggling businesses survive the pandemic and also help provide incentives for new companies to be created. Let’s use this opportunity to boost our local small businesses!

That leaves $20.5 left after providing a huge boost for our non-profits and small businesses. There are many ways these funds can be used to patch holes in our community from the disasters of the pandemic and derecho while also investing for the future. Were I your mayor, I would look to the community for input on how best to spend these funds. Retire some of the debt on the Doubletree? Create incentives to build affordable housing throughout the city? More street repairs? Delay the increased property tax incentives for a year? There are lots of options.

Regardless of how the city proceeds, the city must be transparent in how it spends this money.

This is a great opportunity as we emerge from a terrible year to build for the future. I believe in a brighter future for Cedar Rapids. Let’s do this together!

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