It was the one last questions of the night, and it was a good one.
With so many projects the city could do, what would each candidate set as a priority if elected?
Ron Eggert, the second city commission candidate to answer the question, did not mince words. He answered in very short and succinct fashion.
"No. 1, Police Station. No. 2, pools, No. 3, Library. That is my answer," Eggert said.
Eggert is one of three candidates seeking their first term as a Newton City Commissioner. Libby Albers and Craig Simons are also seeking their first term. Incumbents Kathy Valentine, Glen Davis and Leroy Koehn will also be on the ballot seeking re-election. Advance balloting is underway at the county courthouse. The general election — which will also include board of education seats, a school bond issue and a referendum on the possible sale of Camp Hawk — will be Nov. 7.
All six candidates participated in a candidate forum Oct. 25 at the Meridian Center.
Eggert's priority, at least the first two, mirrored the man he followed in answering the question — Leroy Koehn. Koehn told the audience that his concern was for public safety, and preserving a community amenity used by children in the summer.
"I would say that No. 1 is our police station and the remodel," Koehn said. "Safety is job one for us. After that, I would say the swimming pool. We need to have input from all of you on that and what form that needs to take. Whether we have, and for me, I want to keep the pool right where it is whether it is a bigger version or the same as it is. That is where a lot of kids go for hours at a time, and I think that is very much what we need to focus on."
Each candidate stated that the police station project — which at this time is a proposed remodel of the current facility and sharing the cost with the county — is at the top of their list. Valentine acknowledged that the top priorities of each candidate were very similar as she offered her own take on why each is at the top of her list.
"The problem with some questions is you get copycat answers, and you may wonder 'does she really mean that?' But I do," Valentine said. "I agree that the police department is the number one issue right now. The pool issue, there has been a lot of talk about that right now and a lot of concern. We do need to get on that. ... And the library has been waiting, patiently, for a very long time."
Simons, a former county administrator, told the crowd that while his priority for projects would be remodeling the police department, what comes second would depend on the city budget — specifically how much debt the city is carrying.
"I think we need to look at our debt service, our principal and interest in the future and see where we can fit these projects in without destroying our mill levy," Simons said. "I would say remodel the police building first. The pool, I think it would depend on what kind of pool we are talking about. Are we talking about repairing the pool, are we talking about a water park? What kind of pool are we talking about? I would like to see the pool continued until a decision can be made ... about what kind of pool we are talking about. The library could slip into second place if we are talking about a huge water park."
Albers, who is the public librarian in the city of Hesston, said she had a tough decision after her top priority of taking care of the police station in the interest of public safety.
"I'm a librarian, so do I go with the library or the pool? There are a lot of social services that go with that," Albers said.
She referenced a story told during a work session between the Newton Recreation Commission and the Newton City Commission told by Bart Peace, head of aquatics for the NRC. He noticed bologna in the fridge, and how there was always some in the fridge. Staff told him they had purchased it to give to kids who came to the pool hungry, but with no money to visit the concession stand.
"We talked about that," Albers said. "I am telling you that a lot of that happens at the library as well. Do I have to make a decision? I will go library and then the pool."
Davis set his priorities — going one step futher than any other candidate to give a fourth priorty in his mind — and spoke about a recently approved project that his proud of.
"Of course the police station, the pool, the library, a sports complex," Davis said. "Hopefully we will redo the diamonds at Centennial (Park). ... We finally are going to get restrooms that are decent out there. (We) fought for three years to get restrooms out there at Centennial. It was embarrassing to have teams come to our town and have to use the bathrooms out there. I am so happy about the restrooms at Centennial."