November 27, 2022

Special election results confirm council will manage WaterWorks

Unofficial results say 60% of the votes were in favor of the public measure

Newton WaterWorks will now be managed by the city council instead of the board of trustees, based on early results of the Sept. 13 special election.

Public Measure C asked Newton residents the following question: “Shall the Newton WaterWorks Board of Trustees be dissolved and the city council of Newton, Iowa, in the county of Jasper, Iowa, assume the obligations of managing and contributing the Newton WaterWorks?”

Preliminary results posted by the Jasper County Auditor’s Office show 610 votes, or roughly 60 percent, were in favor of the public measure, while 405 votes, or about 40 percent, were against it. A total of 1,015 votes were counted. Until votes are canvassed by the board of supervisors, results are not yet final.

Only 50 percent of the vote was needed for the measure to pass.

Although the WaterWorks was under the city’s “umbrella,” it was wholly managed by the board of trustees. Newton Mayor Mike Hansen said the board recognized how well city staff had been managing the WaterWorks on an interim basis these past months and requested council take over the reins.

“Obviously, we have professional staff that will do the day-to-day operations, but council will be making the decisions regarding infrastructure needs, CIP and budgets as we move forward,” Hansen said. “It’s always good to put these questions out to the public. It gives us the feedback we need.”

In April, the Newton WaterWorks Board of Trustees approached the city council requesting the change in governance. At that time, city staff had been managing the utility on an interim basis for the past few months after the sudden passing of general manager Lloyd Dale “LD” Palmer.

Between Palmer’s death in January and the retirement of longtime WaterWorks employee Marty Hoffert, the utility lost about 96 years of water experience in a 12-month period. Losing so much institutional knowledge can be devastating. The city stepped in at the request of the board to keep the organization moving.

For the next 90 days, the city took over management while the board assessed the progress. Based on the board’s request to have council take over, board members were pleased with the city’s work. Nevertheless, the decision to put it to a public vote raised numerous questions from citizens.

Specifically, many worried the change would increase water rates. Newton City Administrator Matt Muckler explained that would all depend on the results of a rate study. But Muckler suggested the board would likely conduct the same rate study to see if the rate structure can accommodate some needed maintenance.

Others worried the change in governance would increase property taxes, but since WaterWorks is a separate utility it completely runs off of user fees. So there would be no impact to property taxes. Money collected by the WaterWorks only goes towards the WaterWorks. It legally cannot be spent anywhere else.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 560 or at cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.