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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Newton pondering tax increases

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  •  Newton residents may be paying more in property taxes and for utilities if the city commission moves forward with a plan to hold the line on services for the city.
    After a day spent at a budget fair to give information to citizens, city officials held a worksession Tuesday night to talk about their budget. Another worksession meeting is set for next Tuesday, and the budget itself will not be passed until August, so things could change.
    With the budget requests made by various departments, the city was looking at a $1.7 million deficit. This included a few enhancements but kept the level of services about the same.
    Finance director Lunda Asmani said revenues have remained relatively flat in recent years, but expenses have continued to rise, putting the city in a position of having to make some hard decisions.
    Commissioners had asked for a five-percent across the board cut to see what it would look like.
    About 70 percent of the budget is taken up by police, fire and street departments, and commissioners said they did not want to cut those.
    Asmani said it is hard to have it both ways, to cut expenses and to hold back 70 percent of the budget. They considered a few cuts, such as funding for the chamber of commerce, but those cuts were not giving them the amount they needed.
    Asmani gave them four scenarios, but did not include utility rate increases in his options.
    City officials have said for years they have been having to absorb cuts from the state, which used to give them some money. They also lost a lot of interest income, so they have had to make cuts for a few years.
    Commissioner Leroy Koehn said he does not want to raise taxes, "but we don't have any choice if we want to keep the quality of life we have now."
    Mayor Jim Nickel said the city staff as done a good job of running lean.
    "We have been postponing things, holding off on things and the city grows a little. Maybe we should have raised it a little more last year," Nickel said. He added that the city would have to cut essential services if it does not raise taxes.
    He added that ammenities an quality of life issues are important, and they are a big reason people choose to move to a town.
    Koehn said he knew people would complain if taxes were raised, but he said he feels the town has no choice.
    "I want to look out three to five years, not just look at today," he said.
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