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OPINION

Mayor Leroy Koehn: This was a year of challenge

Leroy Koehn
Special to The Newton Kansan
Mayor Leroy Koehn

As we near the end of 2020, we’re likely breathing a collective sigh of relief. To call this year a challenge would be an understatement. Our families, businesses, community, nation and world have endured so much hardship since the pandemic began.

But we have persevered. I have been inspired by the various ways our community has come together, to support our small businesses and restaurants, to show care for our schoolchildren and seniors, to sustain our nonprofits and social services.

And in the midst of the struggles of 2020, Newton has made remarkable progress. We’re adding quality-of-life amenities that will help us attract and retain young families, we’re adding to our tax base with new developments and expansions at existing businesses, and we’re seeing new positive energy and community pride emerge.

Here is a just a sample of the great things happening in Newton in 2020:

• After more than 10 years of planning, a new library project is underway. The public helped craft a vision for a new facility that will serve the 21st Century needs of our community. The new library in Military Park will feature a one-story layout incorporating more natural light, more efficient use of space, and drive-up services. And its construction will be funded in large part by a private fundraising campaign that has already begun – a great example of a public-private partnership coming together to accomplish more.

• A new swimming pool project is also in the works after many years of discussion. As early as next summer, Newton families will have a new lap pool, zero-entry family pool, lazy river and other water features to enjoy in Athletic Park.

• Two new ballfields are being designed for Centennial Park, which will open up Newton for youth tournaments with the potential to bring hundreds of players and families to our community every year. Both the ballfield project and the new pool are possible because of the healthy partnership between the City, USD 373 and the Newton Recreation Commission – your public entities working together toward a more thriving community.

• The City and Harvey County completed a major renovation of the Law Enforcement Center, ensuring a more secure, efficient and updated space for the law enforcement officers who serve our community.

• We’ve seen exciting growth among our local industries, including Park Aerospace’s $19 million expansion project, completion of Future Foam’s new 80,000-square-foot facility, and Bunting Magnetics’ plans for a future expansion and remodel.

• Building and development is having a resurgence this year. Single-family residential home starts are up 36% over 2019, and residential remodels and outbuildings are also way up. A number of new commercial developments are also in the planning stages.

• The Kansas Department of Transportation awarded Newton more than $2.1 million in funding for street improvements along South Kansas Avenue to serve new commercial development and improve traffic safety.

• The community selected, and the City Commission adopted, a new official city flag as a symbol of community pride we can all rally around.

• Newton’s long-time commitment to its urban forest was recognized with designation as a Tree City of the World.

• Sand Creek Station Golf Course, a community jewel that has put Newton on the map in the golf world, had its busiest and best financial year ever.

• The City Commission appointed Kelly McElroy as city manager to lead our team of dedicated City employees. In my time on the Commission, this is the healthiest relationship I’ve seen between the Commission and staff. The staff understands the vision the Commission has for our community, and we are working together with mutual respect and common goals to serve our citizens and improve our city.

• Despite all the challenges of the pandemic and economic uncertainty, City staff and Commission have worked hard on long-range budget planning and find ourselves in remarkably good financial shape. Strong financial management and tight budgeting by our City departments have allowed us to make progress on all these projects without a property tax increase.

As I wrap up my term as mayor, I could not be more proud or more hopeful for this community I call home. Thank you to the citizens of Newton for the support you’ve shown us Commissioners and the faith you’ve placed in us to exercise leadership on your behalf. I wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season.

Leroy Koehn has served as a Newton city commissioner since 2013. He can be reached at leroy@k5painting.com.