County open to talking about Occidental Development with city

By Adam Strunk

The county is open to talking to the city about a proposed commercial development, if the city cares to sit down and explain it to them.

That’s according to three county commissioners interviewed, which is a bit of a different narrative than the one presented at the city commission meeting two weeks prior.

At that meeting, city commissioners expressed skepticism that the county would be willing to provide any kinds of tax abatements for public improvements to the $90 million development.

City Commissioner Glen Davis said that two county commissioners told him they were against the move.

Hague mentioned that he had heard from one commissioner who was against the idea.

City Manager Bob Myers made a presentation to the city commission about what it would pay for public improvements to the development on its own. At that meeting, Myers said they didn’t believe other governing bodies would be interested.

However, this week, all three county commissioners said they never had official communication about the project with the city and would be open to sitting down and talking about the development as well as incentives.

“I might be, but we never have had some official conversations to grasp what it is,” Commissioner Chip Westfall said of cooperating with the city on a development project.

Commissioner Randy Hague agreed.

“We need to sit down and listen to what they are proposing, and we don’t know at this point,” he said. “[County Administrator] Anthony [Swartzendruber] said he’s tried to find out what they want to do.”

As for how exactly the city came to the conclusion that the county commission didn’t support or want to work with it in regard to the Occidental Development, details seem hazy after the fact.

Westfall said he believes the topic came up during a Newton Chamber of Commerce breakfast between he and Barth Hague.

“We talked in passing about it,” he said, adding that how the abatements have been presented by the city continue to change.

Randy Hague didn’t know when exactly he commented about the project but thought he might have with Myers present.

“We’ve never heard their proposal for sure,” he said. “The only comment that was made is that we weren’t interested in getting involved if it was like the golf course deal.”

Randy Hague was referencing the Sand Creek Golf Course that the governing bodies cooperated on.

Commissioner Ron Krehbiel said he didn’t recall ever talking to city commissioners about the project, adding that he gets along with commissioners but doesn’t make it into Newton often.

“I live out here in the boondocks,” he said. “And that doesn’t hurt me a bit. I take care of my county folks.”

Krehbiel, for the record, is also in favor of sitting down and talking about the project but is a bit skeptical about supporting it.

“To me, personally, it seems like they have changed their mind a time or two,” he said of the different incentive structures. “We’re all willing to sit down and meet with the city. But unless they come up with something special I’m not too much invested in getting involved in it.”

And as for the two county commissioners Glen Davis said he talked to, Davis declined to name them when he was later questioned about the incident.