In the early 2000's Newton was faced with kind of a dilemma — athletic facilities were aging and deteriorating — not the least of which was Fischer Field in Athletic Park. Constructed as a Works Project Administration project in the Great Depression, the grandstand and press box were showing their age.

The community looked at constructing expanded athletic facilities south of First Street — a project called “the Blue Sky Complex.” However, in the context of having other facilities that were deteriorating, a public referendum vote showed there was no support of the Blue Sky. During that period, a message was sent by the public not only through the vote but in surveys — “take care of what you have.”

The question became just how to do that. A bond issue would be the likely funding mechanism to pay for renovations to Fischer Field stadium including the addition of artificial turf; Kelsch Field ball field improvements; Washington Park ball field and restroom improvements; and Centennial Park ball fields and facilities improvements.

It was during that time the Public Building Commission was formed. To create the PBC, a partnership between the City of Newton, the Newton Recreation Commission and Newton USD 373 was struck — the PBC would contain members appointed by those organizations and funded by each organization levying property taxes to support it.

The result was a stadium with artificial turf that became the annual home for two high school state championship games — and renovations, improvements and new construction to other facilities in the city park system.

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At the time of creation, the city, rec and school each committed .6 mills to the commission. In 2005 that meant $55,759 committed by the city and $145,424 committed by the rec and school. In 2018 the commitment is $96,008 from the city and $257,900 combined from the rec and school.

In 2012 the levy was increased to .8 mills for each entity. When the PBC was formed, growth in evaluations was factored into the budget and the intention that the mill levy would not increase. However, that growth was not realized.

“However, in 2011 it was determined that the actual increases being realized in the assessed valuation was not as much as had been projected and that we would likely fall short of having enough money in the bank to do each of the turf replacements,” said Bob Meyer, city manager and counsel. “It was becoming apparent that other improvements would need to be made to some of these facilities.  So it was agreed that each would increase their contributions to .8 mills.”

According to a document shared with the Newton Recreation Commission, the city evaluation has grown by 2.05 percent while the school district evaluation has grown by 2.24 percent.

There are years with annual increases of upwards of 4 percent — however, both the school and city evaluations took a hit in 2010 when both dropped by 2 percent that year. Most years between 2011 and 2018 the growth in the city is less than one percent.

“The only bad year you see is 2010, when both the city and school evaluation went below zero. Those are bad years,” said Brian Bascue, superintendent of the Newton Recreation Commission. “Overall, we have been pretty good.”

According to the city, The Athletic Facilities Renovation Project, of which Fischer Field was a part, was financed with bonds issued in 2004 in the original amount of $2,685,000.  Those are scheduled to be paid off in 2024.  The current unpaid principal balance is $1,485,000.

In the nearly 17 years that have followed the formation of the Public Building Commission, the tax dollars raised have not only funded debt payments and replaced the artificial turf — but have been used for other projects as well.

Among them are a new press box at Kelsch Field in Athletic Park, a new parking lot at Centennial Park, a restroom and concession stand at Kelsch Field and an upcoming project for a new bathroom/concession/pressbox facility in Centennial Park.

All told, the Recreation Commission and School District have, combined, have put $2.846 million into the Public Building Commission since 2005. The city of Newton has contributed $1.09 million during the same time frame.

The interlocal agreements between the three entities are set to expire in 2024.

“The parties are committed for the course of the bonds,” Meyers said.  “The question will be whether all parties will be willing to extend the interlocal agreement as to the athletic facilities so that there can continue to be a dedicated mill levy to enable our ability to continue collecting funds to pay for artificial turf replacements and continue doing other needed projects for our various athletic facilities.”

Discussions of what happens in 2025 will start soon.

“The hope is to keep this going,” Bascue said. “It is a good funding mechanism for projects to get done in this community. For that to happen, all three agencies need to be on board with it.”

“The PBC has proven effective in giving the City, USD 373 and the NRC an independent set of eyes to focus on these needs and make recommendations,” Meyers said. “ In particular, the PBC has closely monitored the accumulation of funds for the turf replacements, how much extra money might be available for other improvements, evaluating and prioritizing what other improvements might be considered without jeopardizing having enough funds to do the next turf replacement.” 

The tax burden for a property owner living in the city of Newton, currently stands at 2.4 mills — $360 annually on a $150,000 home. For property owners living outside of the city limits, but within the school district, the levy stands at 1.6 mills — $240 annually on a $150,000 home.

This year the commission is taking on debt — an estimated $70,400 from the city of Newton loaned for two years. That debt is to pay for the new building at Centennial Park.

According to the commission's capital improvements master plan, the project will cost about $70,000 more than the commission has available.

“If this project is accepted, by the end of the year, we will be about $240,000 in the hole,” Bascue said. “That is why we are asking the city to fund this for two years until the PBC can pay them back. In 2019 we will be doing no projects, we will put in a payback to the city.”

The improvement plan actually does not show any projects until 2024, when replacement of the turf at Fischer Field appears on the plan. That cost is budgeted at $425,000.

“I am concerned that when it comes time to replace the turf, that we have $500,000 in the bank,” said Willis Heck, member of the Newton Recreation Commission. “We have to be very intentional to be sure that we are there. When we did all of this way back when, we were very clear to our community that every time that turf is replaced we will pay cash.”

The projection is for the commission to be there, and possibly higher.

The PBC is projecting to have the money for that project — and possibly about $125,000 more if another need arises.

“If there is another project that comes up between now and 2024, we still may be able to do that,” Bascue said.

The commission has eight members. Currently serving on the commission are Tom Adrian, Maurice Benniga, Carl Harris, John Suderman, Debbie Palacioz, Matt Treaster, Byron Warta and Tim Marlar.

Ordinance No. 4452-03 originally called for a seven-member Public Building Commission, with five members appointed by the City Commission, one by Harvey County and one member by USD 373.  That Ordinance was then amended in 2004 to add an eighth member, appointed by the Newton Recreation Commission.

“This arrangement has worked so well that I would have every confidence the partners will want to continue this in some form,” Meyers said.  “It just seems to make a lot of sense and, in the end, it gives our citizens much better-maintained facilities at much less cost than having to be continually borrowing money.”