Work on the 2018 budget continued for the Newton City Commission in a work session Tuesday, with city manger Bob Myers initially providing some context for the governing body on where Newton stands in terms of property taxes compared to other similar communities in Kansas.

Compared to other first and second class cities (for which mill data was available), Newton ranked 56th out of 127, while it was ninth out of 16 cities with similar populations — right in the middle of the pack, according to the Kansas Tax Rate and Fiscal Data Book. It was noted by Myers that those numbers took into account all property tax mills levied in the area (including school districts, water districts, etc.).

Looking at cities with similar populations and economic characteristics, Newton ranked even better, with the seventh lowest (of 27) annual property tax rate for the median homeowners.

Myers noted those numbers were compiled in order to get some better information as the city tries to set its budget for 2018, with a clarified look at the tax lid computation also helping in those efforts.

Breaking down the computation sheet provided by the state, Myers noted that based on consumer price index adjustment to the 2017 net tax levy and the adjustments to the assessed valuation, an increase of $161,782.54 would be allowed on non-exempt tax revenues, while an increase of $195,844 would be permitted on exempt tax revenues for a total allowable increase of $357,626.54.

In all, the city would be permitted to levy a total of $7,151,247.54 to be in accordance with the tax lid. That would equate to 59.43 mills levied — an increase of 2.339 mills from 2017.

Dealing in uncertainties at the moment, Myers noted that could generally be the case when it comes to the tax lid. If the city commission chooses not to increase the mills to its maximum authority this year, he noted there is no guarantee it will be able to make the same increase next year (based on how the consumer price index is adjusted) — meaning it may not be able to carry any budgetary progress forward.

"That makes it very difficult looking down the road," Myers said.

As Myers laid it out, making the 2.339 mill increase would improve the city's budgetary standing a bit. Along with the possible budgetary solutions proposed at the last work session (reducing equipment reserve funds, using federal fund exchange funds, etc.), the mill increase would generate an additional $281,451 in funds.

"We could get our deficit down close ($34,621), not quite to zero, but getting close to it," Myers said. "We're in the ballpark here of a realistic expectation, I think, that we could get through the year."

Recent action taken by the Harvey County Economic Development Council could also help Newton, as the EDC passed its 2018 budget on Monday, approving a three percent drop in allotments from each partner entity as well as the elimination of the sales tax allocation for economic development, which would amount to a savings of $91,750 for Newton.

Additional requests could add on to the city's deficit, but commissioners requested more information before making a final decision on their inclusion, particularly from Grand Central.

Hesitancy surrounded the discussion of a potential 2.339 mill increase, but Myers did note if that action is not taken this year, the commission could be looking to make up four mills in the budget for 2019. That was the main item in which Myers sought direction from the commission before moving forward with the budget.

Commissioner Leroy Koehn requested to see two options on increases, one at the full authority and one at a middle ground of 1.5 mills. Mayor Barth Hague agreed that might be a good number to look at to get a better understanding, though it is clear the tax lid will force some difficult decisions.

"The struggle with this is going to be our struggle," Hague said. "We have to think of the impact now as well as budgeting and finance for next year as well."

Myers stated he will work to have a proposed budget for the city commission by the next work session on July 11.

In other business, the city commission:

Recognized community members Charles Craig, Sarah Morris Masem and Vernon Rickman (deceased) for being named this year's Newton High School distinguished alumni, as well as NHS teacher Charlie Triggs for his 50-year teaching career and work with driver's ed at the school — helping implement the one-of-kind consequences program for it with assistance from the Kansas Highway Patrol, Newton Police Department and Newton Fire/EMS.
Approved resolution G1172, amending cemetery rules and regulations. Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis presented a draft of the proposed changes at the last city commission meeting with the main difference being an allowance for burials on Fridays following holidays. After receiving comments from several funeral homes in town, the city elected to decline the option to have service on the Friday following Thanksgiving (though Saturday services would be allowed, if needed) or to change the number of cremations allowed per full-size ground burial lot (four) after a request to decrease that total.
Heard and approved a recommendation to make an amendment to a sign ordinance passed by the Newton/North Newton Area Planning Commission. It was noted the changes for Newton would be minimal, simply allowing for monument and wall signs in certain zoning districts with a special use permit. The commission adopted ordinances 4938-17 (repealing the previous ordinance) and 4939-17 (to put the amendments into effect).
Adopted ordinances 4940-17, 4941-17 and 4942-17 to align the city codes with new state laws effective July 1, including an increase in seatbelt violation fees from $10 to $30, the expansion of the definition of domestic battery (which can now include individuals in a dating relationship) and the reduction of possession of drug paraphernalia from a Class A to a Class B violation.
Learned of continued fundraising progress at the Centennial Dog Park from Loomis, who noted the fundraising account had $8,788 as of May 31 thanks to multiple events and bricks being sold by the Rotary Club. While $1,000 has been set aside specifically for agility equipment, Loomis noted the current goal is to generate $3,212 more to purchase a large shelter building for the park.
Heard a report from Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pam Stevens during a citizen's forum on Main Street Mainia and while the weather dampened the festivities, numerous businesses still participated with some stellar results. Stevens said the next chamber-sponsored event downtown will be College Night in August and noted there will also be a ribbon cutting on Wednesday at 1512 Berry Avenue celebrating some first time homebuyers as part of National Homeowners Month.
Received word from Betty Lanzrath, chairman of the board of directors for Grand Central, that the senior center would not be shutting its doors as of July 1. Lanzath wanted to speak to the commission to specifically debunk that rumor, noting no such decisions on any kind of closure have been made, though discussions are ongoing to seek a partnership with the Newton Recreation Commission to make long-term assurances of service (with an outdated HVAC unit at the current facilities). Lanzrath was also invited to the commission's agenda review session on July 6 for more input on the current status of Grand Central.
Established compensation for city manager Myers at a base salary of $145,000, with a $5,000 annual vehicle allowance and remaining benefits similar to the rest of city staff, with the agreement approved for a two-year term.
Shared gratitude for the donations of Stutzman's for the downtown planters in Newton.
Noted an issue regarding water charges at Fox Meadows Apartments, with Myers being asked to bring information regarding a potential change in utility ordinances at the next meeting.