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Emergency levy may be introduced at lower rate than expected

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 12:36 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Jan. 4, 2013 8:26 p.m. CDT

The Newton City Council met to discuss the annual 2013-2014 budget Monday evening. City Administrator Robert Knabel addressed the council on the upcoming challenges the city will face. The council did not vote to enforce any changes in this meeting,

One area of concern was the introduction of the Emergency Levy. This 27 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation would have generated approximately $120,000. Knabel informed the council that the rate is adjustable and 40 percent of the cities in the state use the levy, including ones in Jasper County.

“A commitment of $120,000 is not a large commitment considering the scope of the plan — it won’t go far.” Knabel said. “However, over five or 10 years, these resources will add up and allow the city to make major strides in accomplishing the Comprehensive Plan.”

To get a better understanding Council Member Dennis Julius pointed out that for every penny in a levy is equal to about $4,500.

Many council members were not in favor of the 27 cent increase and decided that 20 cents would be a better option. They also agreed that more information was needed, and Knabel will present it next week.

Another issue that came up was the use of $80,000 from the Whirlpool fund for equipment upgrades to broadcast council meetings. Council Member Noreen Otto was quick to ask for a reduction. Otto believed that television was not the best option. She informed the council that not many people watch the meetings on TV and recommended that the money be invested in a web broadcast medium. Much of the council agreed.

The council has a contract with Mediacom to broadcast meetings until this year, and the council is considering not renewing.

A $70,000 proposed plan to improve city hall was asked to be reduced by a majority of members. The updates were proposed to replace the carpet in the police and fire department. Council Member Evelyn George personally took a tour of the facilities and thought they needed an update.

Knabel recommended that city hall receive updates because some parts of the building had water damage. He believes that improving the city’s image was important to attract potential employers.

The council did agree that security was an issue. They agreed to the possibility of spending $35,000 for security updates.

Otto was in support of the changes, but did not think it was an appropriate time to begin all of the updates.

Knabel recommended a 1 percent tax levy increase. It would raise the tax levy by 15 cents. The increase would cost a home owner with an average house worth $90,100 a total of $35.01 a year or $2.92 per month.

Knabel also recommended that the council invest $35,000 into a mailer information booklet. The reasoning behind this recommendation was to inform a large number of readers who do not have internet access or purchase the Newton Daily News to be able to get information on city events. He proposed an eight page booklet. Newton Mayor Michael Hanson was against idea of a quarterly booklet, but was open to a spring and fall packet. Otto believed that offering it at locations would be a better solution. The council agreed to reduce it, and to not to place advertisements in it.

Departments were approved for consolidation, and Knabel informed the council that there will be no reduction in staff. He also informed the council that the state may reduce the commercial tax by large amount, but believes that the state’s promise to not cut funding to Newton will be fulfilled.

He also recommended that the council spend $4,000 for citizens, who serve on boards, to be recognized with a dinner or event.

Knabel reminded the board that the 2013-2014 annual budget is a collection of projects and priorities that support the city’s mission and vision statement. He will continue to challenge staff and provide the best care to the city that he can.

Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at mshepard@newtondailynews.com.

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