Newton City Commissioners voted to set up a tour of the city's wastewater treatment plant and the Newton City/County Airport for citizens, so members of the community could learn more about how tax dollars are spent at those facilities.

“I think it’s our job to educate the citizens on what we have and what’s going on," Commissioner Glen Davis said. "I think this tour is very important to do.”

Due to stricter regulations at the state and federal level, the city of Newton is facing a $23 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade. The airport also recently completed a $7 million runway project.

Barb Burns, the city's community advancement coordinator, said the tour would be offered at no cost to citizens. Costs for the city would include gasoline expenses for transportation, as well as staff time.

The city has investigated using the Rec Center bus, which can seat 40 people. Recommended days for the tour were either a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Community members would need to register for the tour.

Burns said she was happy to help the commission coordinate the tour.

“I think that information is always good,” she said.

Stunt pilots visit Newton

Commissioners also entertained some special guests at the meeting: pilots from the French National Aerobatic Team.

They are practicing at the airport in Newton for two weeks before heading to the 27th FAI World Aerobatic Championships at the North Texas Regional Airport Oct. 9 through 20.

The team includes 10 pilots (civilian and military), three mechanics, a team manager, and a coach.

The team thanked the city of Newton for its warm welcome and presented a French flag to the city commission as a gift.

“We’re sure glad to have you with us, and we’re glad to have you at our airport,” Commissioner Davis told the pilots.

Learning about land banks

At the meeting, commissioners heard a staff presentation on the possible benefits of establishing a city land bank in Newton for the recovery and redevelopment of distressed or delinquent properties.

Assistant City Attorney Chris Towle said the purpose of the program is to determine which properties might be acquired, decide the best future uses for properties acquired, and get the properties back into private hands.

An example of this would be taking an abandoned lot or dilapidated structure and selling it to a certain person, with conditions about what they can do with the property.

City land banks can be formed by the adoption of an ordinance. The bank would be governed by a board of trustees that could be comprised of commissioners, or commissioners could appoint others to serve on the board.

Hutchinson and Overland Park are some of the other cities that have formed land banks.

Jason Mitchell spoke at the citizen's forum portion of the meeting and said he does not want to see local governments get involved in land banking. He said he works hard to clean up and fix up properties in town, and he fears government involvement could drive up the price of properties for private investors.

City Attorney Bob Myers said the city does not want to stand in the way of people who want to benefit property, and the city doesn’t want to compete with local developers.