Opinion: City Commissioners should join residents, businesses in tightening belts

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“What can we cut and what’s essential?”

Families and businesses across Newton are having that tough conversation right now as prices continue to soar.

Regular folks can’t force their employers to give them more money because surviving has grown more expensive. Businesses can’t raise their prices higher than what their already cash-strapped customers can afford to pay. The elderly can’t force the government to raise their Social Security payout. So we’re all doing with less.

The only body in Newton not working to cut costs right now seems to be the City of Newton, thanks to the direction set by our city commissioners.

This summer, the commission approved massive tax increases, and now commissioners will consider possible utility rate increases.

Instead of saving money to help its residents and businesses, the city’s only making life harder, treating its occupants simply as a revenue stream.

Before you go after city staff for this, remember it’s the commission who sets the direction. The staff’s job is to follow that direction. Unless Mayor Clint McBroom can get two more votes from commissioners, that direction looks like it will continue to be tax and spend until the next election cycle.

Last week, the city commission held a meeting to consider water and sewer rate increases.

The city administration has noted that expenses for the departments have increased. And yes, that checks out.

We get that we’re all dealing with inflation, and if the suggested increases were smaller and were to strictly fund water and sewer service, we probably wouldn’t say anything.

However, the water and sewer funds transfer $1.14 million into the general fund of the city. That’s according to the discussion from last week’s meeting. That means those dollars don’t pay for our water and sewer but for property tax reduction, as the city has explained in multiple presentations.

That might make sense if we, you know, weren’t massively increasing taxes.

Despite expecting more than $500,000 in additional property tax revenue, mostly due to property evaluations increasing, the city raised taxes by an historic eight mills. It’s the largest increase we have ever seen and an increase that far exceeded any other city in Harvey County.

At multiple meetings, residents requested commissioners consider Newton’s citizens and lower that increase. The requests fell on deaf ears, and at the time, McBroom was the only vote against the large tax hike

Again, we understand we’re dealing with inflation. We wouldn’t have had a problem with a modest increase.

The size of the increase, on top of the additional revenue the city was taking in, on top of the unwillingness to compromise with residents is what we took issue with.

Now the city is talking about utility rate increases.

We question why all of the sudden we’re talking about needing funding to support the water and sewer budgets, instead of during budget season.

Inflation isn’t exactly new. Since the water and sewer budgets prop up the general fund, wouldn’t it make sense to discuss this when establishing the general fund and tax rates?

This go around, we’d like to see the commission do more to address a bloating budget than to simply increase water and sewer rates. We’d like the commission to consider Newton’s existing residents and businesses and cut expenditures, as well.

Get in the same boat with us, instead of telling us to paddle harder to pull a yacht.

What do these cuts look like? It should be a discussion topic, and it’s one that’s not happening. We aren’t the City Manager, nor a city department head. If given a target by the commission, we’re sure they’d come up with ways of getting spending levels closer to what they were last year or the year prior. And we’re sure their solutions would be better than arbitrary ones- hiring, spending freezes, pay and replacement schedule adjustments – that normally get suggested in these situations.

At the end of the day, the more expensive we make Newton, the less attractive it becomes. That’s an economic development issue. The city’s own chart from the meeting showed Newton to have the highest utility bill in the area with the sewer plant upgrade fee. That was before their proposed increases.

There’s also a human issue with these rate and tax increases. The more expensive we make the city, the harder we make it on so many of our elderly residents on a limited income. We make it harder on young families, we make it harder on working people, and to be honest, we make it harder on our middle class.

We’re sure these sentiments will continue to be dismissed by some elected officials who have different ideas about the future. That’s OK. But it’s not like we have a fire-breathing, cut-to-the-bone ideology at the paper. We’re usually pretty supportive of expenditures on community necessities and have regularly lauded the city for sensible financial decisions that re-invest in the community.

It would go a long way for all of us if we had a few more commissioners take residents and businesses in mind and at least meet us all halfway in cutting some city spending and general fund transfers to meet budgets.

We might not be able to convince them to change, but perhaps you all can.

  • By the Harvey County Now Editorial Board
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