Community upgrades were a key topic of discussion at the Newton City Commission's meeting on Tuesday, with a heavy focus on the following three items:

1) Community survey talks progress

During a work session prior to the city commission's regular meeting, discussion of the commission's 2019-2020 budget priorities were rehashed after City Manager Bob Myers weighted the results of a poll of commissioners identifying the top needs for Newton. Those ranged from passenger rail expansion to municipal pool renovations to community promotional initiatives.

Trying to rank the top priorities, however, spurred several commissioners to circle back to the idea of the community survey that has been discussed by the commission in recent meetings — and allowing the residents to help shape the focal points of community development (in relation to the budget).

"I think we should do the survey and not be focused on this priority list right now," said commissioner Glen Davis.

While it was Myers' intent to come before the commission Tuesday with a contract between the city and Wichita State University's Public Policy and Management Center to consider regarding the circulation of a survey, that did not materialize in time. Myers also pointed out that, while he had hoped a regional partnership opportunity would keep the overhead low, the estimate he came back with for the commission was at $16,000 for the services of WSU.

Going through Wichita State, most commissioners saw value in the scope of data the new survey would target — but Newton Mayor Kathy Valentine remained adamantly against another survey, as she could not support the cost with survey results out there from the past 10 years that she stated shows similar results to what the commission is looking into once again.

Valentine's stance is one several Newton residents who spoke during a citizen's forum were in agreement with, making a call for action to the commission.

"I don't think you're going to get any different answers," said Tim Marlar. "As a leader, you make a decision and you move on. You move on with the best data you have available."

"It's kind of discouraging for all of us to make the effort to show we want to have stuff in Newton ... but we keep getting drug along with surveys," said Brandon Weeks.

Ultimately, though, the city commission gave approval for Myers to enter into contract discussions with Wichita State University for help with a community survey.

2) Historic preservation appeal denied

Recent upgrades to a local business contributing to the Newton Main Street Historic District II came before the Historic Preservation Commission recently, which led to the appeal that come to the city commission on Tuesday.

Following the replacement of three windows at 601 N. Main (renovations to the Prairie Harvest building) , a building permit was pulled and then reviewed by the HPC. However, the normal procedure is for the permit to be pulled and reviewed by the HPC before renovations are complete — which did not occur in this instance. As the windows do not meet the historic district guidelines, the request was denied by the HPC.

Appealing the HPC's ruling, building owner Aaron Gaeddert noted his contractor had pulled a permit for the entirety of a renovation project to the building (not just windows) in the spring of 2018 and he was under the assumption the window renovations would be outlined in that scope, trigging the HPC review process. That was not the case.

Given the feedback the commission hears on Newton's historic downtown, commissioners noted the importance of upholding the historic preservation guidelines. While they were empathetic towards Gaeddert's case, they expressed the belief that it is more a contractor/client issue than anything and denied Gaeddert's appeal — though they were hopeful the situation could be resolved.

"As a contractor in the marketplace, I would not have a choice but to stand tall and replace those windows," said commissioner Leroy Koehn.

3) Airport improvement plan reviewed

Members of HNTB were on hand during the city's work session to go over long-term improvement plans for the Newton City/County Airport, as well as review recent upgrades — including recent runway and taxiway rehabilitation projects.

The next step, HNTB representatives noted, is to start work on a four-year/four phase reconstruction project (complete demolish and rebuild) for Taxiway E. Asked about the lifespan of such a project, HNTB representatives stated they are expected to last for 20 years — with the FAA not allowing any further reconstruction until the 20-year timeframe has elapsed.

Funding processes were also highlighted, with it being noted that the FAA sponsors a lot of development projects through the Airport Capital Improvement Program — handling 90 percent of said costs and leaving a 10 percent match for local entities.