The Newton City Commission took little action at its regular meeting Tuesday night at the commission chambers at the City Building, but it did engage in discussion about the 2021 budget. The city’s budget is tied to the calendar year. The commission is expected to pass the final budget in late July or early August.


Projected expenditures is $20,311,501, down by almost $1.96 million from last year. The total mill levy is 42.784, down by .571 mills from last year. Total valuations is expected to increase by just under $2.99 million from last year. Revenue is projected at $19,374,537. The city is projected to have a beginning balance of $3,401,614 and finish the year with a $2,464,650.


City finance director Donna Pickman said revenues have come in ahead of expectations, despite the COVID-19 shutdowns.


"If you look at sales tax, as of right now, we’re still ahead of last year," she said. "… We have been much more fortunate than Johnson County or Sedgwick County. I’m hoping we don’t see that kind of impact."


As a savings measure during the COVID outbreak, the city has offered an early retirement package to certain employees and have left some openings unfilled. Travel also has been reduced.


The entire budget can be read at https://www.newtonkansas.com/home/showdocument?id=13728.


The commission also viewed the portion of the 2020 Newton Community Survey dealing with business development. According to the survey results, 91.7 percent of all respondents support the encouragement of business investment, 90.6 percent support trying to attract more small business, 89.9 percent support working with existing businesses to encourage expansion, 86.4 percent support trying to attract more dining, shopping and entertainment businesses, 79.8 percent support trying to attract large employers, 79.4 percent support a focus on recruitment of families to live and work in Newton and 77 percent support a focus on developing the downtown area.


The city currently has several initiatives, including an retail development on 1701 South Kansas Avenue from Occidental Management of Wichita, working with other developers to bring entertainment, retail and other commercial developments to town, work with the Harvey County Economic Development Council to enable industrial expansion and new business, such as expansion at Park Aerospace, continue to work with businesses — both new and existing — to find grants and tax credits (such as the building housing Prairy Market and Deil on North Main) and continue development of the Choose Newton Website.


Potential new initiatives include participation in the Main Street Project — a joint state and federal project; redevelopment and sale of the city-owned property at 320 North Main; and a possible county-wide community development corporation, which would aid in retail recruitment, housing development, downtown development and workforce training.


According to city manager Kelly McElroy, the building at 320 North Main would have to be raised and cleared of contamination (spilled diesel fuel from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad) before it could be sold and redeveloped.


"Obviously, the best use would be privately owned and operated and redeveloped so it could be back on the tax roll and generating property tax revenue and income tax revenue as well," McElroy said.


With the recent Supreme Court decision that expanded sexual orientation and gender identity employment rights (Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia), City Attorney Christopher Towle suggested the commission revisit its discrimination policies. Discussions were put on hold while the city awaited the decision.


The commission, via the consent agenda, approved a request to shut down Kansas Avenue from the entrance to Centennial Park to the North Newton city limits from 7 to 8:45 a.m. July 4 for the Headin' for Home 5K race; approved a request for picnic tables and trash containers for the Food Truck Friday Event Friday at Midway Motors; approved a request from the Harvey County Fair Board to close Main Street from 6:30 to 8 p.m. July 30 for the parade as well as assistance for fair events; and approved the appointment of Rick Golubski to the Newton Recreation Commission for a term through April 30, 2023.


The commission also met in separate executive sessions for matters concerning the purchase of real estate and for attorney-client privilege.


The commission will next meet at 8 a.m. June 30 for SGR Leadership Training at he Meridian Center. The commission also will meet in a joint meeting with the Newton Recreation Commission at noon July 7 at the Meridian Center to discuss the Newton Municipal Pool.