Land was one of the main topics at the Newton City Commission meeting Tuesday night at City Hall — annexing land and purchasing land.


The commission tabled until a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. Thursday a plan to purchase a parcel of land from BNSF Railway for a price of $38,800.20 located just off W. First Street near the Sand Creek bridge.


The price includes basic title insurance but does not include enhanced title insurance and other needed insurance policies. The lack of certain needed insurance policies prevented the commission from approving the measure Tuesday.


If the agreements are approved Thursday, the city will close on the property at 11 a.m. Friday.


Included in the purchase agreement is an easement for access and utilities, a waterline easement from VAE Nortrak North America, a drainage easement from BNSF and a temporary construction easement from BNSF.


The land will be used to build a new water tank. A current water tank on West First and the Sand Creek bridge will then be torn down and rebuilt.


"In the final review, we ran into a question out there regarding an insurance requirement that BNSF required," Newton City Attorney Chris Towle said. "We’re working on that. We need to tell you definitively that we can get the policy and the cost before I advocate you adopting the agreement. We have a chance to work through it."


An increased protection title insurance will cost $2,680. BNSF is insisting on a $7,527 policy purchased directly from the railroad to cover any damage to the tracks or other BNSF property during construction. The city also will have to purchase a pollution liability policy.


"We’re going to do $3 million, roughly, in improvements," Towley said. "We want title insurance to cover the full amount. … The staff would advocate for the extra money just in case there was any problem with the title, just like if you were buying that property with the tank already on it."


"Of all the properties you are dealing with, this is one of the oldest areas in town," Newton city engineer Suzanne Loomis said. "The railroad was here first, and the city is proud of that, but when you are looking at the deeds and what the railroad has for a deed, it is complicated. Title insurance is extra important."


The city intends to build a new 1.9 million gallon water tank. A 3.8 million gallon tank located just north and east of the proposed site will be demolished and replaced by another 1.9 million gallon tank.


"We’ve had two different analyses of the structure and it’s not something we can remedy with a repair," Loomis said. "… This is an issue where we knew this project was coming, so we didn’t deal with the exterior. We didn’t want to spend those dollars knowing the structure was going to come down."


The special meeting will be open to the public.


The commission approved an ordinance finalizing the annexation of a lot at the corner of S.E. 12th Street and Hillside. The unimproved lot, 1.35 acres, is already owned by the city and adjacent to the city limits on one side.


The commission approved supplemental agreements for improvements on Taxiway E at the Newton City-County Airport. Ninety percent of the total cost of the project will be covered by a federal grant from the CARES Act. The city’s share of the project is expected to cost $45,777.


The commission approved an ordinance to sell Taxable General Obligation Refunding and Improvement Bonds — Series 2020-A at 2.98%. The bonds are being sold by The Baker Group and were bought by banks in Kansas and Nebraska.


The new bonds will provide an interest savings of $1.5 million. Annual debt service payments will decrease by $100,000 to $150,000.


The original Industrial Revenue Bonds were sold in 2014 for a manufacturing facility for Aviation Business International subsidiary ABI Chemical LLC. When that business failed, the site was taken over by Kansas Chemical Coatings LLC, which left the site at the end of 2018.


If the site is sold, the proceeds may be used to pay off the principal of the debt.


The commission also approved the formation of a task force to create a city flag.


"The idea was that our community could benefit from a community flag, a city flag, officially for the community to rally around as a point of pride," Newton director of communications Erin McDaniel said. "I was asked to create a community engagement process to engage our residents in what a community flag should look like."


Members of the task force include Mary Lee McDonald, director at Carriage Factory Art Gallery; Rachel Epp Buller, art professor at Bethel College; Rodger Nugent, artist; Elizabeth Hingst, graphic designer; Libby Albers, community member; Dan Heinze Jr., community member; and Melody Spurney, Convention & Visitors Bureau.


The campaign would start June 14 — Flag Day — and would end sometime in August. Entry forms and instructions would be posted online, allowing community members to submit an idea. Community meetings also would be held.


The commission also approved a proposal to apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG-CV) Economic Development grant, made available from the Kansas Department of Commerce. If the city is awarded the grant, which is as much as $300,000, those funds would be made available to local small businesses (up to $30,000 for businesses of one to five employees including the owner and up to $50,000 for businesses of six to 50 employees).


The grants can be used for:


• Working capital such as wages, utilities, rent, etc.


• The purchase of 60 days’ worth of inventory needed to reopen.


The cost of grant administration is included in the grant, but the costs of preparation and writing the grant application is borne by the city. The city would hire a consultant for the application writing.


A public hearing would be held at the next regular city commission meeting.