Tuesday was a night of in-depth discussions but few decisions for the Newton city commission.

During its regular meeting the commission took a long look at the city’s water rates and entertained a proposal to raise them, but the group took no action.

Ron Ahsmuhs, director of finance, painted a grim and urgent picture of the city’s water fund coffers. Because of a wet 2008 — meaning city water customers used less water for projects like watering lawns — and the loss of a large customer, Rural Water District No. 1, the fund is running somewhat dry. The lower consumption cost the city about $450,000 in water revenue, and the loss of the water district, which now is using its own wells, will cost the city $350,000 annually in lost revenue.

The city moved funds from the reserve into the water account, and now the reserves are nearly depleted.

He presented commissioners with several proposed alternative fee methods. The methods had differing monthly meter charges and rate per 100 cubic feet of water usage. The higher the monthly meter charge, the lower the rate per 100 cubic feet.

For example, one proposal suggested a $10.75 monthly meter charge and a rate of $4.45 per 100 cubic feet, while the option on the other end of the proposals was a monthly meter charge of $6 but a rate per 100 cubic feet of $5. All would bring in very similar revenue totals annually.

The current system is a base rate of $10.75 and $3.45 per 100 cubic feet, but the base rate includes 300 cubic feet of consumption, while the new monthly meter charge would not include any usage.

Under the highest meter charge but lowest consumption charge, a person using 200 cubic feet would pay $19.65 a month, compared to $10.75 a month under the current system, while someone using 1,000 cubic feet would pay $55.25, compared to current $45.25, and 50,000 customer would pay $2,235.75, compared to a current $1,735.75.

With the lowest meter charge but highest consumption charge proposed, a 200 cubic feet customer would pay $16, a 1,000 cubic feet customer would pay $56, and a 50,000 cubic feet user would pay $2,506.

With the increase, Ahsmuhs said the fund would be in the black through 2012, based on 2007 consumption levels.

That is not considering any additional capital improvements that would incur debt service.

Ahsmuhs noted the more heavily a rate system relies on consumption for income, the more susceptible it is to fluctuation.

No commissioner seemed eager to raise water rates, with a consensus water rate increases can detrimentally impact fixed-income and lower-income families.

But the water fund is to run like a business, Ahsmuhs said, with fees covering costs.

The city can’t use property tax and other funds to underwrite the water fund.

“It has to pay for itself,” he said.

One option the commissioners discussed was charging commercial customers a proportionate meter charge if they have numerous or larger meters.

While it would bring in additional revenue, Ahsmuhs said that step alone would not solve the problem.

Commissioners asked staff to rework the proposal by considering a monthly meter charge that includes 100 cubic feet of consumption with a meter charge close to the current $10.75.

The modified proposal will go before the commission again on June 9.

Another item of discussion with no action was an update from the Newton Public Library Task Force, which met May 20 to discuss possible alternative locations for the Newton Public Library.

At a previous work session with city commissioners, some had raised the possibility of moving the library to alleviate parking issues in the Seventh and Oak streets vicinity.

The task force, comprised of library board members and staff and city representatives, reached the conclusion the library should remain at the present location.

The task force gave the following reasons:

• Coordination of services and programs, with three school and college located adjacent to the current library and two schools located within easy walking distance several blocks away.

• Stewardship of resources, as a new site would require additional funds for the purchase of land and construction of a new library.

• Parking, with current location having space for adequate parking.

• Limited space at other suggested sites.

• Acquisition of other sites would delete the property from tax rolls.

• Cost of re-purposing the present library building.

• No other location has a complete city block available for the library, parking and green space.

• Current location is part of the visual and geographic governmental arch from City Hall to the county courthouse.

Commissioner Jim Nickel, who was part of the library task force, said he went into the process looking for alternative sites but soon discovered other sites would be costlier.

In recommended steps for moving forward, one item the task force asked for approval was use of Military Park for library expansion.

Suzanne Loomis, director of public works and a member of the task force, said the library would like to know whether the city was supportive and whether Military Park would be available for expansion before submitting requests for proposals for designers and before spending money on a design phase.

Commissioner Ken Hall said he wasn’t particularly keen on using Military Park for expansion as it is “green space we’ll never get back” but said using the park space for library expansion may be the “lesser of two evils.”

The issue of parking was discussed at length, and library director Marianne Eichelberger said a parking task force has a meeting scheduled Friday.

Commissioners postponed taking any action until the next meeting with the hope of hearing from the parking group.

In other business, the commission:

• Withdrew an offer to CECO Pipeline Services in relation to proposed facility in the city’s Industrial Park.

The city had offered CECO five lots in October, but the company has not signed the agreement and has indicated to the city it is putting the project on hold because of the economy, city attorney Bob Myers said in the meeting.

By withdrawing the offer, Myers said it would free up the lots for other possible industrial prospects, but he said the city still is interested in working with CECO should they proceed.

• Approved a resolution revising the Municipal Court Victims Rights Policy.

Myers said in reviewing the existing policy, staff was unable to find documentation the policy had ever been formally adopted.

Staff made revisions to the policy, and it was reviewed by pertinent court staff, including the city prosecutor and the municipal judge.

Myers said the policy helps ensure victims had “every opportunity to be heard.”

• Authorized the sale of general obligation bonds Series 2009. The bond issue covers projects completed that have not been bonded.

Projects include Asbury Park water, sewer and streets; the south side sewer interceptor; improvements to Kansas Highway 15 (Main Street; and the soccer fields. The 1999 bonds also were refinanced at a lower interest rate.

• Received an update on the Circles Initiative of Harvey County, a community-based movement that addresses poverty. Members of the group expressed a desire to have a city commission serve as an active liaison with the group and to support city employees in participating in a poverty simulation the group is planning to conduct in the near future.

Commission members said they would get back to the group regarding the requests but took no formal action.

• Approved a request from the Mexican-American Athletic Committee to provide a snow fence at Washington Park for the Annual Fourth of July Softball Tournament, July 3 through 5. This will be the 61st tournament.

• Approved a request from the Chisholm Trail Festival Committee to have the event’s annual parade on Main Street from Fifth to 11th streets. The approval is subject to approval from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

• Conducted an executive session for the purpose of preliminary discussions on the acquisition of real estate, discussion of confidential information for a third-party economic development prospect, and discussion covered by attorney-client privilege.

Following the session, the commission took no action.