Newton City Commissioners addressed a variety of issues at their meeting Tuesday — ranging from wastewater rates, to an airport hangar, to the number of pets allowed in Newton homes.
Commissioners approved new wastewater rates, including an increase to fund a mandated wastewater treatment plant upgrade.
“If we have to build a sewer plant, we really don’t have a lot of choices,” Mayor Jim Nickel said. “We have to increase (the rates).”
New rates proposed were a minimum monthly fee of $30 for 2014 (inside the city), increasing slightly each year to $36 in 2018. This includes the first 300 cubic feet of water. Each 100 cubic feet of water used after that amount will be charged $8.70 in 2014, increasing to $9 in 2016.
This system will be used in place of a previously approved flat fee — in addition to the regular fee — of $17.75 per month for residential users, and $51.44 for commercial, institutional and industrial users. The surcharge remains in effect as long as necessary to pay the debt service on the wastewater treatment plant project and will be canceled after the project has been paid off.
“I think it’s going to hurt some people, but consumption based is the only fair way to do it,” Commissioner Bob Smyth said. "... The ones that use less, pay less.”
Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of a joint undertaking with Harvey County to build a new 14,000 square foot hangar facility at the Newton City/County Airport. The county will bond construction of the hangar, with construction costs not to exceed $1.6 million. Costs for the facility will be covered by lease revenues from the hangar. County commissioners already approved the project at their meeting Monday.
The city will be putting together a task force to look at raising the number of dogs allowed in Newton homes. Regulations currently state people may only have three cats and two dogs, with some exceptions for service dogs and foster animals.
"This does hinder bringing people into our community," Caring Hands Humane Society executive director Kevin Stubbs said of the current limit. "It is a quality of life issue."
Commissioners were scheduled to discuss a possible new commercial development project in the city, but City Attorney Bob Myers recommended postponing the discussion to a future meeting. He said the party involved is not yet ready to go public, and more details need to be worked out before an announcement is made.
“We are getting some interest in our community, which is a good thing,” Myers said.
Chris Tuohey, general manager at Sand Creek Station, reported parking at the golf course needs to be expanded in the future. The course is running out of space when it hosts major events. Estimated cost for the project is $298,000; this would not be bonded and would come from designated infrastructure dollars. Commissioners Jim Nickel, Racquel Thiesen and Leroy Koehn voted in favor, with Bob Smyth and Glen Davis opposed.
Commissioners voted to retain a lobbyist to advocate for city interests. The Harvey County Council of Governments is asking all member cities to pay a portion of the costs to hire lobbyist Bernie Koch to advocate on behalf of local governments. Cost to the city of Newton is $2,100. Newton's participation is subject to cooperation with other local governments.