Newton City Commissioners discussed different strategies for moving forward with economic development, including a possible change in consultants.
Mayor Jim Nickel reported on negotiations with the city's current economic development consultant. He recommended revisiting the issue in three months, evaluating current projects in progress and then determining whether to retain the consultant based on results.
"All of us natives are getting restless here, and we want results," Commissioner Leroy Koehn said, adding that he wanted the Kansas Logistics Park Development Authority to have a role in making the final decision.
Commissioner Bob Smyth moved to cease paying the consultant at the end of the month (the consultant is paid $126,000), and Commissioner Glen Davis seconded the motion. The motion was defeated.
Nickel said economic development is not always a quickly moving process, and sometimes projects may take a decade to come to fruition.
"I think there's something that takes time and effort," he said. "... If we just say we're severing all ties (with the consultant) ... then I think we've guaranteed we've wasted our money over the past three or four years."
Commissioner Racquel Thiesen asked for an official scale on how they should evaluate the consultant.
Commissioners also heard a proposal from another consultant who would like to draw on more local connections to grow the city's logistics park. How much this consultant would be paid was not discussed at the meeting.
Lunda Asmani, assistant city manager for budget and finance, also presented the city's 2013 financial year in review and 2015 budget outlook.
The city will begin preliminary revenue estimates for 2015 in February. Asmani said budgeting continues to be a challenge as needs are higher than the resources available. Issues commissioners will have to discuss in regards to the 2015 budget include:
• For the 2014 budget, the city diverted $450,000 from the sales tax fund to the general fund. Is this a policy the commission wants to continue?
• The city has a variety of infrastructure needs, including the parking lot at Centennial Park and renovations at the police department.
• Emergency responders reported outdated radios are causing safety and communications issues and will need to be upgraded.
Despite budgeting challenges, Asmani reported the city is in good financial health. In 2014, Standard and Poor's gave the city an AA- rating, upgrading the city from an "upper medium grade" to "high grade." He said Newton right now has a higher rating than the city of Wichita.