Newton City Commissioners and city staff discussed multiple development projects as part of Tuesday's meeting, including the following highlights:
Alternative development plan pitched by Occidental
Following a memo circulated to commissioners at the last city meeting, Occidental Management brought forth another proposal for development of an 80-acre property on South Kansas Avenue (south of Arby's and Orscheln Farm and Home).
While the previous proposition came with what staff estimated at a nearly $4 million price tag for street/utility work (for traffic lights, water mains, etc.), Occidental Management submitted a revised proposal that was discussed by the city commission in a work session on Tuesday.
The revisions would simplify the initial phase to include Light Commercial zoning for the development and platting of five lots on the portion of the property nearest Kansas Avenue, with no additional work being required on Kansas Avenue, no streets to be added on the north and south sides of the property and only the need to have a sewer main (which already exists) and water main extension on the west side of Kansas Avenue. That work would come to a projected grand total of $165,000 to the city.
City Manager Bob Myers was quick to note the revised plan does not meet necessary development requirements tied to that area, as the city's traffic plan for South Kansas Avenue triggers a need to connect South Kansas Avenue with Old Main Street to the west.
Additionally, the plan to have a street on the north side of the property would not be possible with the newest proposal, as the northernmost plat extends to the very edge of the development — and into the space planned for said additional street (where a planned traffic light was also set to be installed, given the heavy traffic near that intersection).
Myers also pointed out that the amended proposal would come with less tax benefits. Whereas a fully developed property was projected to generate around $300,000 in tax revenues annually, the five-plat proposal only brings in $73,000 by staff calculations (and based on Occidental Management's figures).
Given the improvements that need to happen in conjunction with the development of the tract, the tax revenue is a key aspect, as the city has to consider if that would be enough to service the debt tied to the project.
"We have costs associated with this development," Myers said. "Somehow we've gotta pay for it, and we don't have a lot of cash laying around to do that, so we would have to bond it and, obviously, we'd look to the revenues we'd be generating as a result for a source of money we would use."
In the end, Myers noted the city is analyzing what it would ultimately get out of the deal, which is why Myers suggested going back and looking at the "tiff like" approach and bringing the county and USD 373 into the conversation — giving the utility work that has to happen.
Questions from the commission centered on how much commitment there is from Occidental Management with this new development phase and while there was some willingness to hear them out once more, there was also a consensus that the burden is on the company to illustrate why the city should move forward with this.
"I think this is their project to sell," said city commissioner Barth Hague.
Priorities discussed prior to budget planning
Work load of various city staff was highlighted by Myers as something to consider leading into budget discussions, though he noted they continue to plug away and address a number of issues (i.e. improved safety measures at city hall).
Particularly, he noted a staffing study done about five years ago that highlighted a need to add 12 officers to the Newton Police Department over time. Four positions were filled, but only one officer remains with the department (as one gets ready to deploy) — an item that Myers said will likely be addressed during budget season, potentially in the form of increased pay within the department.
Another, more pressing item Myers brought up was a continued commitment to regional collaboration — something he sees Newton at the forefront of in the Wichita metropolitan area and a continued boon for the city.
"I think it's already paid us huge dividends," Myers said. "I think there's a lot more dividends to be had."
Moving forward, Myers asked the commission to consider buying into a new regional initiative (Project Wichita) and they agreed that approach could be beneficial— especially as it pertains to economic development.
Centennial Park projects highlighted
Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis ran down the numerous improvements currently in various phases of completion at the Newton city park, including plans to add a shelter at the dog park, completion of the sanitary sewer project, the initial stages of work on a new concession stand/press box near Klein-Scott Field and restroom at the south end of the park (near the youth fields), as well as preliminary planning for a new parking lot to the east of the youth fields on the south end.