A city commission work session dedicated to the 2019 budget contained a little good news, but very little. A budget proposal brought to the city commission included a mill levy hike, rate changes and more.
The good news was a 2.8 percent increase in the assessed valuation of property in the city limits — a slight expansion of the tax base that will lead to increased property tax revenues. It also means a smaller than expected hike to the mill levy — though that was little consolation to commissioners viewing an initial budget proposal filled with rate adjustments, project delays and cuts to external agency funding.
"I have been warning everyone that it could be eight mills," said commissioner Glen Davis. "We knew this was coming."
The increase in front of him Tuesday was 7.062 mills. One mill is one dollar per $1,000 of the assessed value of a home.
"I was hoping, personally, that we could keep it down around a five," said commissioner Leroy Koehn. "I just do not know how we can get there... The bond and interest is the biggest part of that."
The proposal in front of the commission includes more than $719,0000 for bond and interest funds to meet current debt obligations of the city. That represents nearly 5.7 mills of the mill levy increase.
The proposed budget also adjusts external agency requests — lowering funding for Health Ministries from $40,000 to $25,000, the Chamber of Commerce from $30,000 to $25,000 and Grand Central from $10,000 to $7,500. Also suggested is the delay of bonding current projects, making structural changes to a TIF district on East Broadway and rate changes for the water department.
A possible increase to water rates could be offset by an adjustment to sewer fees, but that concept proved unpopular with the commission. The proposal would lower a sewer plant upgrade fee that the commission chose to keep at current levels to pay off bonds for the project as much as 10 years early and make significant savings on interest.
"I want to know how much we can really save someone," said commissioner Rod Kreie. "If we are going to save them $3.19, I am wondering where we go with that."
"I am sitting here thinking about our water situation, and I voted no on that, and here we are back to messing with those rates," said commissioner Glen Davis. "I am not happy."
The proposal also called for coupling pool renovations and baseball diamond improvements to public building commission funding; the addition of one person to the Newton Fire/EMS department; the expansion of a city prosecutor's position; and the purchase of mechanical CPR devices for Newton Fire/EMS.
"I think we should forgo the $164,000 in budget enhancements, and I will put that log on the fire," said commissioner Leroy Koehn.
The commission did not make any decisions Tuesday, discussing the budget in a work session. The commission will review proposals at the first meeting in July, slated for July 9.
There will be a public hearing at the following meeting. A budget must be approved in August.
In other business the commission:
• Heard budget presentations by Grand Central, the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Harvey County Economic Development Council.
• Approved an application for a Rural Housing Incentive District for a senior housing project near 24th and Anderson.
• Approved the acquisition of right-of-ways for a water main project to connect the Newton City/County Airport to the city of Newton.
• Approved a request to find engineering services for a new Park Services building.
• Approved bids for a sanitary sewer project at Old Main. Norwalk Construction was the only bidder. Their bid of $1.2 million was below engineering estimates.
• Approved an agreement with Charlesworth Consulting for $9,750 to develop a Request for Proposals for insurance services.