Newton City Commissioners voted to forward a proposal for $1.125 million in renovations and improvements at the Newton Recreation Center to the Newton Recreation Commission for their input.
The proposal was approved in a 4-1 vote at Wednesday's commission meeting, with Commissioner Glen Davis voting against it.
Commissioner Jim Nickel said he thought the proposal was a good compromise that would move the project forward.
“I think we need to come to some kind of conclusion of what we can do, and what we can as a city see as a prudent thing to do,” he said.
City and Recreation Commission officials have been discussing the future of Newton's aging Rec Center for some time. A variety of proposals have been brought forward, ranging from making repairs to authorizing a major renovation and expansion of the entire facility.
The proposal approved Wednesday involves the city paying for project construction costs, and the NRC will be responsible for reimbursing those costs by making scheduled payments to the city.
Davis said he has spoken with various community members and believes the issue should go to a public vote. He said he thinks the city has been blocking the Recreation Commission's efforts for several years.
“We always never communicate with the Rec Center, we just do things to them,” he said. “... I think people have a hidden agenda, and that’s my opinion.”
City Attorney Bob Myers said Rec Center officials were informed about the proposal.
Nickel said no secret meetings are being held, and he does not want the city to close down the Rec Center and turn the city's recreation services over to a YMCA. However, he said he does think the city needs to have conversations about to what extent taxpayers should be asked to fund recreation. Would people support a tax increase in order to get a new Rec Center building, he asked.
“I think people want a new recreation center," he said. "I’m not sure in what form.”
Commissioner Willis Heck agreed with the proposal and said he liked the fact it did not require a mill levy increase. The proposal could serve as a beginning stage of Rec Center improvement projects, and more work could be completed at a future time.
“This proposal gets the interior of the (rec) building fixed, which it sorely needs,” he said. “... I would be supportive of getting the renovation of the building started.”
He thought it was important to keep in mind other buildings, such as the library, that also are requesting upgraded facilities.
Commissioner Davis recommended having open houses at facilities such as the police station and the library so people can learn more about some of the problems at those buildings.
Other business
Lunda Asmani, assistant city manager for budget and finance, also updated the City Commission about the possible impact a federal or state fiscal cliff could have on Newton.
Tax exempt bonds could be eliminated, minimizing profits that investors would receive. If fewer are interested in investing in government bonds, this could raise the borrowing cost for governments. Cuts to grants and funding at the federal level could hurt local governments, as well, Asmani said.
At the state level, the expiration of a 1 cent sales tax could result in a $350 million loss in state revenue. Additionally, there is a proposal to expand a machinery and equipment exemption, which would lower the amount of taxes businesses pay but also reduce the amount of property taxes cities can generate, Asmani said. Harvey County could lose about $750,000 annually in revenue.