Although Newton’s Future Comprehensive Plan, the recently-completed comprehensive plan for the City of Newton, passed by unanimous vote at Monday night’s city council meeting, it may take councilors weeks or even months to pore over the plan in detail and make any necessary amendments before fully implementing its provisions.
Because action must be taken by the council in terms of the plan by mid-November in order to meet grant requirements, the plan was the main item on the agenda last night, spurring further explanation of the project’s timeline by Bryan Friedman, Newton’s community development director.
“I know I’ve spent some time this week mulling through the comprehensive plan ... so I know the council probably hasn’t had a lot of time to go through an in-depth review of the plan,” said Mike Hansen, mayor pro tempore. “In the council report, it also said that the staff understood that this process may be extended to another council meeting if the council should decide to do that.”
“The council has been provided with a summary overview of the comprehensive plan as of the Sept. 17 meeting, and tonight at this meeting you have the whole document before you,” Friedman said. “This document represents a year of citizen input, and we’re very thankful for that. It is understood that it will likely take the council more than one meeting to read through everything and fully absorb and engage all the content ... but we’re really excited about this as a jumping off point for the community to really have some direction and point toward a bright future.”
City administrator Bob Knabel agreed that full assessment and address of the plan by the council will require additional time.
“You have in front of you a lot of effort that has been put in by the community and residents — some really valuable thoughts and directions for the council’s consideration,” he said. “It is going to require some time. If we’re going to understand the implications of it and how best to use it, it’s going to require conversation on the council’s part to massage it and go through it and make sure it says what we want it to say.”
Knabel added that because of the grant process tied into the plan, the council must take action on it by mid-November. Councilor Noreen Otto suggested moving forward with the agenda for the meeting based on the additional time needed by the council to fully consider the plan.
“This document was not only created by our city staff, but also by the steering committee and input by hundreds of citizens, so I can’t imagine that it’s my job as a council member to pick through it and change things at this point,” she said. “I would support moving forward this evening.”
Council members agreed and by unanimous vote passed the motion to move forward with the meeting’s agenda.
With the proposal of the city’s snow removal ordinance at the Oct. 1 council meeting, an ordinance was brought forward to make proposed changes to three portions of the original ordinance: parking restrictions, snow removal operations and downtown snow removal area. It was then brought to discussion by councilor Jeff Price that, by the provisions set forth in the ordinance, many people living downtown and, especially on the square, might not have space to park during declared snow emergencies.
“Paragraph A in the snow removal declaration, right now ... the code reads that ‘no person shall park in streets, alleys or city-owned off-street parking areas,’ but when we get a snow declaration, we’re busy working on the streets — we never get to the parking lots until the next night,” said Keith Laube, Newton Public Works director. “I’d like to strike the ‘city-owned off-street parking area’ from the declaration so people can park there from 10 p.m. to the proposed 7 a.m.”
“If I might share, in my meeting last Friday with the department directors, we had a discussion regarding, if you look at the map of the downtown snow removal district, we’re expanding that ... so where do these folks park?” Hansen asked. “If we’re encouraging development of the downtown area with more condominiums and what have you in that area, where will these people park? So we discussed exempting the city-owned parking lots as a place they can park.”
City attorney Darrin Hamilton advised that as long as the proposed ordinance becomes less restrictive over time regarding where residents can park, the council could vote to adopt the ordinance. Otto made the motion to amend the wording of the ordinance immediately to strike “city-owned off-street parking” from the ordinance, which carried unanimously. In addition, the first consideration of the proposed changes to the snow removal ordinance also was approved unanimously.
The council also discussed the allocation of funds to purchase several tablet computers for use by councilors in order to save money on the ink, paper and personnel costs that go into printing each meeting’s paperwork. The estimated cost of the tablets is just under $7,000.
Otto expressed concern as to whether the purchase of the tablets was the city’s highest priority, citing the future implementation of an accounting package yet to be purchased by the city.
“As a council member, I’m happy to keep working with the older technology as long as our departments have the technology that they need to function as the priority,” she said.
“I would say that the highest priority would be the financial package,” countered Knabel. “Because of the size of it and the complexity of going through the acquisition and how it might relate to other systems that we have, so it’s a little more difficult to put together, it’s more costly.”
Knabel added that making sure the city acquires the best accounting technology is a process that may take some time, and will likely be completed by the third quarter of next year.
Councilor Dennis Julius additionally addressed concerns of public perception if the council were to purchase the proposed 17 mobile tablets for an amount not to exceed $8,000.
“We need to make sure that public understands that there are some cost savings by doing this,” he said. “The amount of paper that a council member gets and the staff gets is quite large every other week and this would eliminate a lot of the copy time and paper and staff time, so it isn’t just that we’re going to spend $8,000 on tablets ... there are some cost benefits too.”
In fact, Knabel pointed out that the tablets would pay for themselves in two to three years simply in terms of paper, ink and personnel savings; thus the resolution was adopted through a unanimous vote.
In other orders of business, Bob O’Brien thanked councilors for their support of this summer’s series of Bike Night events, which drew visitors from four surrounding states. O’Brien proposed that next year a fifth Bike Night — also referred to as Thunder Nites — be added, citing positive feedback from businesses within the community and billing the events as “a great way to promote Newton.”
Newton Housing and Development Corporation President John Carl updated councilors and those in attendance on the work the NHDC has recently completed, noting that while much of their mission is to promote growth and new building, keeping up the cosmetic appearance of existing buildings and tearing down those beyond repair is also central to the corporation’s objectives. In this vein, volunteers will work with the NHDC this weekend to help spruce up homes around Newton whose owners have asked for help, according to Carl.
The councilors approved the consent agenda unanimously, approving liquor licenses to various establishments in Newton as well as appointing Joshua Cantu to the Newton Planning and Zoning Commission for a term that well end in December 2014.
An approval of bills regarding councilor Steve Mullan’s reimbursement also was passed unanimously. An amendment to the items listed was made, changing Mullan’s reimbursement from $468.86 to $285.18 after alleviating some confusion regarding repayment for the cost of hotel rooms at the recent Iowa League of Cities meeting.
In the first ordinance discussion, councilors unanimously agreed to add Title 3, Chapter 20, Article 7, “Conversions” to the Code of City Ordinances of the City of Newton, Iowa. This ordinance, per Friedman, would allow apartments to be converted into housing cooperatives, or co-ops, thus making the affected units safer. Property taxation on affected units would also be converted from the commercial rate to the lower, residential rate.
A resolution awarding the bid for the crop land lease for land at the Newton Sanitary Landfill was passed unanimously by councilors, awarding the land to James Patterson of Monroe, who bid $355.00 per acre during the open bidding process on Oct. 9. Laube explained in response to an inquiry from Otto that the lease includes 122.5 acres of tillable farmland south of the current landfill, which were previously leased for just $109 per acre. Patterson’s lease on the land will begin Jan. 1, 2013, with a bid totalling $43,487.50 in revenue for the landfill.
The resolution setting a public hearing, inviting proposals and stating intent to accept a purchase proposal for city-owned property in the 200 block of North Fifth Avenue West was set forth. While much discussion has been had regarding the land’s future development, the council’s vote would merely set into motion the required 30-day period for the city to accept bids on the land.
Friedman briefed the council on talks regarding the parcel’s development, explaining that the city has been working with the Cincinnati-based Miller-Valentine Company in order to potentially construct a senior-housing project on the aforementioned parcel of land.
“What the proposal is at this point is to change that southern half of the winery plus the full block to the south ... and incorporate that into a 50-to-60-unit senior housing complex,” Friedman said.
“We’re excited about this prospect but we don’t want to get too excited because it is contingent upon getting the tax credits through the state, so they’re putting together a tax credit application due in December. Should they be approved for tax credits, by next year we’ll be rolling with this project.”
Julius sparked the council’s discussion of the issue by bringing up the current saturation of senior housing in the downtown area.
“Is this proposed project similar to Newton Village?” he asked. “Is there an actual need for 50 to 60 more units, or would there be vacancy issues at this property?”
Friedman confirmed the need for additional units for seniors within Newton, citing that as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, the need for senior housing will continue to grow. Thus, the resolution was adopted by a unanimous vote.
A resolution approving a property tax rebate to Newton Lodge and Suites, LLC, for the AmericInn Hotel on land located within the Prairie Fire Economic Development area totaling $51,356 and provided for in the Prairie Fire TIF District budget for 2012-2013 was also unanimously adopted.
In new business, Hansen thanked local businesses in addition to the Newton Convention and Visitors Bureau for the “fantastic experience” they provided visitors to the Miss Iowa USA pageants this past weekend at the high school. Additionally, a motion was put forward to add a discussion of the city’s vicious dog ordinance to next meeting’s agenda.
Nicole Wiegand can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or via email at email@example.com.