At their Tuesday night meeting, the Newton City Commission conducted a public hearing in the consideration of expanding Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) benefits to include three properties – one located along SW 14th street, one on N Sherman and one at Boyd and Broadway.

Shortly after the public hearing, and having heard no disagreement, the commission approved a resolution authorizing execution of an amendment to the Interlocal Agreement – to expand the Neighborhood Revitalization boundaries.

As a result, the proposed expansion will now be put before USD 373 and the Harvey County Commission, both of which will have a say in its finalization.

The NRP works by establishing a Neighborhood Revitalization Program Area (NRPA) and offering owners, whose property is within that district, up to a 10-year tax rebate.

That rebate, which is incremental, is applied to the additional property taxes incurred as a result of new construction or improvements to the existing infrastructure of properties within the NRPA.

During Tuesday night's commission meeting, Director of Community Planning and Development for the City of Newton Kelly Bergeron said the properties at N. Sherman St. and and the one near SW 14th St. are currently vacant properties.

The one on the far west of town is the former Youthville property, which is now owned by Emberhope.

Bergeron said it was at Emberhope's request that the expansion of boundaries was brought to the commission.

To be added to the district, Bergeron said properties must have an infrastructural need that would be expensive to fix. For that reason, she said said those areas are often more difficult to develop (which explains the allure of the NRP rebates).

Bergeron noted that it is important for members of the public to understand that, if they are already in this district and are considering major infrastructural improvements to their properties, they may already qualify for rebates through the program.

In preparation to the City Commission's action on the NRP, Bergeron had already visited with the USD 373 Board of Education and the Harvey County Commission.

During Bergeron's visit to the county commission's meeting on Monday, county commissioners agreed the county would be the entity least affected by changes to the NRP. However, the proposed action was a hard sell when considering the many tax breaks already afforded locally.

"I'm for fixing things up in our community, but when we already have 25 percent of our property off the tax roll, it's hard to swallow," said county commissioner Randy Hague. "I've got a problem with it. I'm sorry, I do."

Hague additionally noted that, as a business owner, he has personally invested $200,000 on local properties and never had a tax abatement, believing that to be a part of his responsibilities.

County commissioners discussed issues with the rebate being on added value (especially if a property is previously undeveloped), but Bergeron said that setting the valuation is part of the application process with the NRP and owners would still have to pay for the increased value of the property, as the benefits of the rebate would be limited to property taxes. 

Via phone, Assistant Superintendent for Human and Fiscal Services for USD 373 Russell Miller told The Kansan that he believed the impact of the district expansion on the school district would be minimal.

"... You're basically looking at tax credits or deferments that are on improvements that have never been taxed before, so we're not losing tax dollars, in terms of you can't lose what you never had to begin with," Miller said. "So somebody may get some tax credits or incentives for a number of years, but I don't think it would be an actual reduction of property tax to any of the taxing entities – if I understood her (Bergeron) correctly."

To his knowledge, Miller said the Youthville property was previously tax-exempt, so it could mean an increase in revenue where there was none before.

Nonetheless, Miller said his comments were is own personal opinion, and that the board of education would look at the expansion in more depth during their upcoming meeting on February 13.

To her knowledge, Bergeron told The Kansan that Hague's major concern revolved around the upcoming implementation of the tax lid, which will limit cities' ability to raise property taxes without a public vote.

Nonetheless, Bergeron said these three properties are all currently either non-profits or are vacant, so if developers build there, it will eventually lead to revenue.

"Late revenue is better than none," Bergeron said. Also, those developments could create jobs that could bring people to town who can contribute to the local economy through generating sales tax revenue or by generating products that can be sold.

In addition, Bergeron clarified that owners will only get a rebate on the additional taxes produced by the qualifying property improvement and not on the pre-existing property as a whole. 

Also, there is still an approval process where property owners will need to apply for the rebate and make sure their infrastructural improvement fits into the qualifications for the program – so there is also a safeguard against abuse of the program.


In other business, the city commission:

- Conducted an annual reorganization of the City Commission, appointing Barth Hague, who was previously vice mayor, as Newton's currently acting mayor and David Nygaard, who was previously a commissioner as Newton's currently acting vice mayor. Davis will return to being a city commissioner.

New Newton mayor Barth Hague thanked previous mayor Glen Davis for his service, his leadership and his team-oriented approach to being mayor. Noting the bizarre issues in 2016 regarding animal control ordinances, and in jest, Nygaard presented Davis with a colorful assortment of stuffed animal bees, chickens and monkeys.

- Recognized Newton Police Department Cpl. DeAnna Mowery for organizing the Blue Christmas gift drive, as well as Newton PD officer Gary Littlejohn, who organized holiday food delivery.

Newton Chief of Police Murphy introduced the two officers to the commission. With the help of various city and community contributors, Mowery spearheaded the Blue Christmas drive for the last two years and this year's drive raised approximately 450 gifts (costing an estimated $6500) for 44 children in 17 families.

Murphy said Newton PD Officer Littlejohn helped with the holiday meal giveaway. In a partnership with Newton-based Gorilla Marketing, he was able to help 36 families to get turkeys on Thanksgiving. Additionally partnering with Regier Construction, Dillons and citizen volunteer Tami Lakey, the same 36 families were given ham and canned goods to prepare a Christmas meal. Approximately $1400 was raised for the Christmas drive.

- Approved a proclamation from Newton Convention and Visitors Bureau Melody Spurney, declaring 2017 as the 150th Anniversary of the Chisholm Trail in Newton. The CVB will be hosting a variety of signature countywide events throughout Harvey County. Specifics on those events will be outlined in future editions of The Kansan.

- Approved a staff recommendation for a permanent restroom facility at the Springlake Spray Park. Director of Newton Public Works Suzanne Loomis said the park has been popular and had issues with the absence of a proper restroom facility nearby. With the new plan, the one toilet permanent restroom is intended cost roughly $31,730 and can be paid for from $50,000 the city previously wrote into the 2017 budget for park-based capital improvements.

- Heard a presentation from Newton City/County Airport Manager Brian Palmer of a Capital Improvement Program for the airport.

- Received a report from Palmer on the taxiway lighting project at the Newton City/County Airport. Some taxiway lights at the airport are now functional, but Palmer said staff are still reviewing the lights to make sure all lights are functional.

- Designated The Kansan as the City of Newton's official publication newspaper for the year.

- Approved a regular ordinance relating to elections, terms of the governing body and the city's form of government, as well as a charter ordinance exempting the city from K.S.A. 12-104A.

- Received a 2016 year-end report from City Manager Bob Myers.

- Renewed a cereal malt beverage license for Billy Sims Barbecue as a limited retailer for 2017.