Although five candidates find themselves vying for the at-large Newton City Council seat, it was a candidate forum on Thursday resonated with a message of overall agreement on city issues.
Garfield Berndt III, Evelyn George, Lance C. Hawley, Matthew Holmes and Russell Terlouw took the stage following the mayoral forum for their own question and answer session in council chambers at city hall.
A variety of questions were asked by the crowd including why the candidates want to be on council, city spending and investments, the Dangerous and Dilapidated program and issues concerning attracting businesses to the community.
In what Berndt said would probably be the easiest question of the night, the answers to why the candidates want to be on city council, all had a similar tone.
“I came back to Newton, we left briefly and then came back because we left our hearts here,” George said. “I served on the Maytag Bowl committee and found there is a lot this community to be proud of and to be excited about.”
Hawley, Holmes and Berndt III all spoke of there want to serve and help the citizens, while Terlouw wants to be an agent of change and work hard for the people.
Growth, whether it be in the housing sector, economic growth or community growth was also an area the candidates agreed on. Named as a top opportunity for the city by several candidates, growth was seen as a way to move the community forward in the coming years.
“For Newton to get better it needs to grow,” Holmes said. “To grow, we need housing, affordable and good housing and with that is industry.”
Hawley also addressed the growing issue of small businesses remaining open and viable in the community. He proposed creating a program similar to the housing incentives to help the businesses in the short term financially.
Berndt III brought up the many accomplishments the city has already achieved since the closing of Maytag 10 years ago. While it was a “blow to the gut,” the city has been resilient and has a lot to show for its efforts.
“Look at what we have accomplished just in the past 10 years. TPI, Trinity, UL in the old Walmart building, we have multiple retail stores and food establishments that have come in the past 10 years,” Berndt III said. “As an accomplishment that should feel really good for the community that the city council had a hand in it to a point. It kept the community alive when a lot of people thought it was going to die.”
One area where Terlouw had a difference of opinion was the creation of a TIF (Tax Increment Finance) district at the Fairmeadows North subdivision. The city approved the creation of the TIF district along with almost $900,000 in infrastructure work for the development extension.
“I wouldn’t approve it, I would say no, flat out,” Terlouw said. “It is a lot of money, we have 140 houses already for sale.”
While several candidates did not have enough information to answer the question to the full extent, George did respond by saying the city knew it needed housing and, through her work with the “Get to Know Newton” leadership class, she was told over and over the city did not have the type of housing desired to move to the area.
“This empty field, which now is getting very little property tax, when we get 23 homes on it, then the property tax is going to go way up,” George said. “Those taxes are used then to help pay back the costs of the infrastructure. We’re also going to get some of the costs back just from selling the lots.”
Holmes agreed, stating Fairmeadows North is a great plan in an area close to Berg Middle School and Agnes Patterson Park.
“When you are talking about bringing in 23 houses, where people are paying contractors to build these houses and the money that is going to come back in the taxes, it is stupid not to. That is part of growth,” Holmes said.
To end the evening, the candidates discussed a topic that brought fierce debate during the mayoral forum, which was held in conjunction with the city council forum. The D&D program works to clear dangerous and dilapidated properties throughout the city and all of the candidates agreed it has been successful for the city.
“I believe it is a good program, I support it,” Hawley said. “It is helping us.”
The city election is Nov. 7.
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or email@example.com