Budget priorities have started to be discussed among the Newton City Commission as the governing body nears the start of the planning cycle for the next fiscal year. Those priorities drew additional review during a work session on Tuesday, as the results of a poll circulated among commissioners were presented by City Manager Bob Myers.
Myers had presented the city commission with a list of projects to prioritize at its last meeting, ranging from passenger rail expansion to swimming pool renovations to community library visioning, and tabulated the poll results — both by highest score and weighted average — before coming back to the commission on Tuesday.
While the results were generally the same, there was some discussion among commissioners on if the lowest ranked item (community child care needs facilitation) should be re-evaluated, given staff testimony on how that is impacting business and residential recruitment — though it is a discussion city staff noted it will continue to pursue.
Overall, though, a majority of the commissioners were of the mind that the priorities should not be discussed until the governing body receives input from the Newton community in the form of a survey — something else that was discussed at the previous meeting and readdressed Tuesday.
Previously, Myers had noted a more cost-friendly survey option may have presented itself through regional economic development efforts in partnership with Wichita State University's Public Policy and Management Center. Following up, Myers intended to bring a contract back to the commission for consideration at its meeting on Tuesday. While he did not have that, he did secure a cost estimate of $16,000 for such services.
For Mayor Kathy Valentine, any form of survey with a price tag attached is not something she can get behind. Given the work done through the pool survey last year and that of the ReNewton initiative within the past decade (showing similar results), she sees more than enough data available to be able to proceed with prioritizing development projects.
"I appreciate the work that city staff has done; this does not negate that," Valentine said. "I just simply cannot support spending $16,000 or under to do a survey when we have two very close surveys that have been done in the last 10 years."
Community members who spoke during a citizen's forum mirrored Valentine's stance on the survey, calling for action from the city commission.
Brandon Weeks, speaking on the growth of the Newton Baseball Club, pointed out the need for field expansions at Centennial Park — not only to be able to facilitate home games and practices, but to allow the city to reap the benefits. Currently, he noted some teams are having to sign up for leagues in Hutchinson — with Newton then being left to help pick up the slack and host some of those games without getting the league money.
Meanwhile, Tim Marlar said he doesn't expect a new survey to result in much different answers from the community and while you "can't crash a vehicle if you never leave the motor pool," there may come a point in the near future where Newton loses some of its amenities due to inaction.
"As a leader, you make a decision and you move on," Marlar said. "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," Weeks said.
Part of the push to do the survey with WSU, as commissioners and city staff noted, is that it is expected to be more scientific than what has been pitched previously.
Given the scope of these development projects, many of the commissioners saw the detail behind such a survey as ideal.
"It's more than a survey about the pool or the baseball fields. It's about a number of things," said commissioner Glen Davis. "I feel like we need to have it done professionally and find out what our community really wants."
A motion was made, and approved by the commission 4-1, to move forward and have Myers enter contract discussions with WSU for survey services.
In other business, the city commission:
Heard a report from HNTB on capital improvement plans for the Newton City/County Airport.
Recognized the R. Michael Rhoades Foundation for a donation that helped facilitate the construction of an open-air shelter at the dog park.
Approved a request from Celebrate Recovery to waive fees for the use of trash receptacles and picnic tables for an upcoming event at Military Park.
Approved a request to close Athletic Park Circle for the Cookie Daze 5k on June 15.
Denied Aaron Gaeddert's appeal of the Historic Preservation Commission's ruling regarding a recent window replacement at his building (601 N. Main St.) in the Newton Main Street Historic District II. The commissioners were empathetic to Gaeddert's situation and hoped he would be able to resolve the issues with his contractor.
Approved Resolution I-1180 for grading improvements to serve Rolling Hills 6th Addition.
Approved condemnation ordinances 4979-19 and 4980-19 pertaining to land acquisition for a ground-level water tank.
Approved the release of mortgage for the Holiday Inn property managed by Broadway Hospitality LLC.
Received a request from Lance Gormley during a citizen's forum to pursue expanding the city's social media presence and possibly livestreaming meetings.
Heard from Tim Marlar during a citizen's forum, who offered to help organize a forum on the city's water rates.
Learned that a grand opening for Klein-Scott Field is planned for March 22.