The city of Newton anticipates the upcoming hearing on the 2014 budget will draw a big crowd. The city is considering a five mill tax increase, and the budget hearing on Aug. 13 likely will draw opponents and supporters who wish to share their thoughts with commissioners.
Members of the public at the last Newton City Commission meeting asked the budget hearing be moved to another facility — specifically, the Meridian Center — in order to accommodate a larger group of people. That move will have a cost.
Per a previous agreement, the city pays for all the events it hosts at the Meridian Center.
"It was their decision to do that," said Michael Lunsford, general manager. "They didn't want the perception in the city that there was favoritism to the city."
Lunsford said the Meridian Center is available to be booked for a public hearing on Aug. 13. The center has not yet worked out all the details with the city, such as how long the conference center will be needed and what the final cost will be, but the charge to rent the entire facility for an hour is $250.
Even though the facility is owned by the city, Lunsford said city staff did not want to set up a situation where a free city event might make the facility unavailable for a paying customer. The city wanted an arrangement that seemed fair to everyone.
The Meridian Center can seat 525 people, with standing room for an additional 500. Going above that number would violate fire safety codes.
Lunsford said the Meridian Center is happy to host the event for the city.
"We're excited to have the community out here," he said.
There are several other venues in Newton that could be possible sites for a public hearing.
The high school auditorium — which was used for the 2011 budget hearing — has an estimated rental fee of about $45 per hour. The fee is dependent on the facilities and staff members needed, said Deborah Hamm, superintendent of Newton USD 373. However, the city would not be charged per previous agreements with governmental agencies. The auditorium seats 706 people.
The Fox Theatre would seat 400. Although the rental policy for the theater is not fully in place (renovation work continues on the facility), board member Barb Burns said it likely would be about $150 per hour, plus any incurred expenses such as microphone rental or cleaning services.
Newton Public Information Officer Erin McDaniel said the chambers where the city commission normally meets would not have an additional fee but do offer limited space. About 60 people can be seated in the chambers. The city is able to set up about 40 additional seats in the third floor conference room at city hall, with an audio link so people can hear what is going on.
"If we have an overflow crowd, they can see what's going on and rotate in and out to take turns giving comments," McDaniel said.