Newton City Commissioners approved the 2015 budget with a 1 mill increase to fund emergency responder radio improvements. Problems with the current system have created communication and safety issues.

"Our law enforcement needs to be able to communicate with other law enforcement agencies," said Lunda Asmani, assistant city manager for budget and finance. "... This is something that needed to be addressed."

Local emergency responders have been reporting spots without good radio coverage and have had difficulty communicating with Harvey County's neighbors, most of whom are on the 800 MHz system. Officers have even had to use cell phones in high speed chases because they are hitting radio "dead zones."

The statewide 800 MHz system is an integrated network that allows communication across the state. The county is looking to transition to the 800 system and piggyback on the state system.

Asmani said policy changes at the state level also continue to impact local government budgets. Cuts to income taxes can shift the burden to property and sales taxes, and the state also has cut off the demand transfers revenue stream, which used to provide property tax relief.

No community members spoke during the 2015 budget hearing.

Other business

At the meeting, commissioners also approved a letter of intent regarding the sale of city-owned land to J. Van Sickle & Company of Wichita for the development of a multi-family apartment complex.

The proposed site is along the south side of West First Street, on the west side of Boyd Street. The plan includes three phases, with about 95 residential apartment units a piece. Jason Van Sickle said he sees the project as a collaborative public/private partnership and is planning $30 million worth of development in Newton. He plans to break ground by April and is not seeking tax abatements for the project.

Commissioners voted 4-1 against the proposal for a bike master plan, with Racquel Thiesen the only commissioner voting in favor. The proposal was for an approximately $66,000 project to analyze existing roadways, travel patterns and potential for future bicycle growth, to determine the best locations and layout for bicycle lanes and facilities in Newton.

Suzanne Loomis, city engineer/director of public works, said having a complete plan could make it easier to apply for grants for bike improvements. Commissioners Jim Nickel and Glen Davis said they were concerned about the cost of the project and said they were not ready to commit to it at this time due to other city projects.