The Newton City Commission approved the 2010 budget for publication at its Tuesday night regular meeting. The budget is a slight decrease in mill levy and tax levied.

The Newton City Commission approved the 2010 budget for publication at its Tuesday night regular meeting. The budget is a slight decrease in mill levy and tax levied.

The mill levy proposed is at 43.096 compared to 43.097 for 2009, with total levied taxes estimated at $4,729,493, compared to $4,830,072 for 2009.

Ron Ahsmuhs, director of finance, said keeping the mill levy constant “is a very big accomplishment for our department heads, and I applaud them for that.”

The public hearing on the budget is set for 7 p.m. on Aug. 11 in the commission chambers in City Hall during the regular commission meeting. After the budget is approved for publication, the city can lower expenditures but not raise them.

The city is facing a 2 percent decrease in property valuation, so a comparable mill levy translates into less tax revenue generated. The property valuations are not finalized until later in the year, after the budget is passed.

Also on the agenda was a Web site development and maintenance agreement with Vision Internet. Erin McDaniel, public information officer for the city, said the main goal of the project is to “greatly enhance our service to citizens” by making the site more interactive.

Examples of possibilities for the new site include the ability to pay water bills and license fees on line, the ability to apply for permits on line, and other tasks people come to City Hall to complete.

She said the current site has information but not the ability for such features. Also, she said the site will have possibilities for two-way communication, such as e-mail alerts and updates, surveys and polls.

Tim Johnson, assistant city manager, noted with the current setup, one person has access to the site and the ability to make changes and update information, but with the new site, each department can make changes, so the site should provide better information, as well as better presentation of that information.

Vision was chosen out of six proposals because of its philosophy of making the site accessible and useful to residents, McDaniel said. The contract is for a one-time development fee of $52,884, plus $200 per month for hosting, with the hosting agreement renewable on a year-to-year basis. The cost of the project was included in the 2009 budget.

McDaniel said the development process is expected to take 15 to 26 weeks, so the new site may be online yet this year.

The commission also recognized the city’s residential Yard of the Year winner. Suzanne Loomis, director of public works, announced Darwin Fellers’ yard at 2013 Wagon Wheel Drive as the winner out of six nominations. Fellers received an honorable mention last year. Loomis said Fellers’ yard had great curb appeal and good use of annuals. She said his yard is a “very small space, and he has done a

lot with a very small space to make it very appealing.”

Mayor Racquel Thiesen presented Fellers with a $50 certificate to a local greenhouse, and a “Yard of the Year” sign will be provided to Fellers.

The commission also approved the annexation and rezoning for property along the east side of South Kansas Avenue, south of Southwest 24th Street. The property was purchased several years ago by the city with the intent of building the south side fire station. Part of the property was annexed years ago and has a single-family dwelling district zoning classification. The remainder of the property was still in the county and zoned as agricultural by the county. The city annexed the property and rezoned it in its entirety to a general business district classification.

The commission also approved the final plat of the property for the fire station.

The annexation, rezoning and final plat previously had been approved by the Newton/North Newton Area Planning Commission.

In other business, the commission:

• Heard from two Newtonians during the citizen’s forum. Alan Pitts, owner of two car washes in Newton, spoke of the difficulty the water rate increase has posed to his business.

“The city is wanting people not to wash their cars in the driveway, but you’re forcing car washes out of businesses,” Pitts said. “I cannot go up in price with the economic times.”

Pitts said the increase of about 50 percent amounts to “a lot of quarters,” and he said the water rates are not only a hardship for existing businesses but also could be a deterrent for new businesses moving to town.

Jason Mitchell, who owns rental property in town, said in his 54 units he has about 80 adults, and he said he conducted an informal survey of about 70 to 75 of those adults on their employment status. Of those, three have been laid off, 15 are looking at extended shutdowns or furloughs, and 50 had no raises this year and see no raises in the foreseeable future.

Mitchell commended the commission on its “due diligence” in keeping the budget steady and not raising taxes.

Commissioner Jim Nickel said the city staff and department heads need to be commended “probably more so than we do” for their work on this year’s budget process. Thiesen noted while the budget is voted on in one meeting, it is the culmination of many months of work by city staff.

• Made a slight change to the housing incentive program. City attorney Bob Myers said some bankers had expressed concern about financing qualifications because of the ways the funds were routed. The existing plan calls for the developer, real estate agent and/or builder to contribute $3,000 to a closing agent toward the purchase of a new home, with the city then to contribute $1,000. Under the adjusted resolution, the formula still remains, but the funds will be routed through the city, which then will pay the funds to the title agency at closing. Myers said the change should address the issue.

• Approved a proclamation signed by Thiesen recognizing Aug. 3, 2009, as Bunting Mangetics Co. Day to honor the company and its employees for its 50th anniversary of operations. The company began in Illinois and established its headquarters in Newton in 1979.

• Tabled an ordinance regarding the vacation of an alley in Gilbert’s Addition. Myers said the property owners and Westar Energy had not been able to work out issues regarding utility access in the alley. Myers said the ordinance will go back before the commission at the next meeting, and the property owners and a Westar Energy representative should be on hand.

• Conducted three executive sessions, one to deal with matters pertaining to non-elected personnel, one to discuss confidential data relating to financial affairs or trade secrets of second parties, and one to continue deliberations in the Newton VFW Lodge liquor license proceedings. No action was taken after the sessions.