At their meeting Tuesday, Newton City Commissioners set a deadline for making a decision about the Newton Recreation Center renovation project.

The City Commission plans to have a joint special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17 with the Recreation Commission. Staff recommended approval of a final agreement about the project on this date, so the project can begin moving forward.

“Every time we have a meeting, people throw up roadblocks, and we know the public wants to get this done,” Commissioner Glen Davis said. “This is one project that could pull the community, maybe not heal everything, but maybe pull the community together a little bit. We need to get something accomplished.”

“We want to get this process going too,” said Brian Bascue, recreation superintendent. “... I know the intentions were to at the first of the year to put out some bids. We were hoping to get this project by March 1. That’s what we were looking at to get going with this project.”

According to the draft of an inter-local agreement presented to commissioners at the meeting, the engineer’s estimate for the project is not to exceed $1.8 million. The Rec Commission would put up $900,000, and the balance would be provided by the city through a loan. The NRC would repay the loan in five annual installments, possibly with interest.

Bascue said the Rec Commission had requested six years instead of five, and the board had the impression they would not be charged interest.

“They were told that there probably would not be any interest, and like I’ve said in the past, that’s like loaning somebody money to play poker against you," Davis said. "It gets the citizen’s money and we’re just turning around and charging interest.”

Commissioner Leroy Koehn asked commissioners to consider what would be fair, if some city projects were charged interest and some were not.

Mayor Jim Nickel said a loan also could tie up money that could be used for other projects.

“We’re just a nice big daddy, and we wonder why our tax rate is higher than North Newton," he said. "It’s because we keep making deals where we keep subsidizing the rest of the people. We’re paying it out of taxpayer money whatever we do. When we start a giveaway program, don’t complain that our mill levy is higher than the areas around us. ... I’m uncomfortable going out more than three years with a loan."

Economic development

Also at the meeting, Newton City Commissioners approved a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement with a real estate firm in relation to proposed negotiations with the city about a possible commercial development project.

NDV Real Estate LLC, a firm based out of Wichita, has expressed an interest in a possible new development on a tract of about 80 acres between the current commercial area with Walmart on the north and the Stratford Place housing subdivision on the south.

The agreement is designed to protect the sensitive nature of economic development. City Attorney Bob Myers said the agreement sends a message the city can be trusted with trade details. If the agreement were to be breached, the project likely would be terminated and could tarnish the city's reputation, Myers said.

“The details of what the developer has in mind, they’re not ready for those to be publicly disclosed yet," he said. “... It would be damaging to them if that too soon become public information.”

City commissioners also proposed a joint work session Jan. 14 with the Harvey County Economic Development Council board to reexamine a contract with an economic development consultant.

Other business

Commissioners addressed a number of agenda items at their meeting, including:

• Voted to lend money to the airport fund to make debt service payments on a previously approved community hangar project. The loan is designed as a short-term measure and will have an interest rate of 2.5 percent. Staff said the hangar should generate sufficient revenue to meet the debt service in the long term.

• Approved a one-time economic development grant of $25,000 to benefit a cooperative project proposed by the Health Ministries Clinic, Prairie View and the Harvey County Health Department. The organizations would like to create an integrated health care system, and part of that plan includes the three organizations sharing a building at 215 S. Pine St. in Newton.

• Approved a loan agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for a low-interest loan for wastewater treatment plant improvements.

• Received the 2014 Budget Book. The spiral-bound document shows the city's financial plan and what different departments spend each year. Copies are available for community members upon request.

• Approved an ordinance adopting the McKinley Historic District guidelines. Commissioners also were presented with a new handbook that will be sent to property owners in the district. The book provides information on recommended design standards to preserve the historic character of the district.