A look back from the outgoing mayor – Newton Kansan

Rich Stinnett  |  The Kansan

As 2021 draws to a close against the backdrop of the continuing pandemic, it’s hard to imagine a more tumultuous couple of years than what we’ve all just been through. 2021 wasn’t quite the return to “normal” that most of us longed for after 2020, but we have continued to make remarkable progress as a community.

It was so rewarding this year to see our community opening back up, to be able to gather together again for community events like Summer Daze, the Taste of Newton, the Chili Cook-off, and the Parade of Lights. These events are so important for strengthening bonds between us as Newtonians and maintaining our traditions and community character.

And here at the City, we have continued to advance our strategic goals of growing the tax base, increasing housing stock of all types, adding amenities to improve the quality of life/place, and improving our infrastructure.

Here is a just a sample of the great things happening in Newton in 2021:

· We celebrated the opening of our new swimming pool in Athletic Park, an amenity that every Newtonian can now enjoy, thanks to our partnership with the Newton Rec Commission and Newton Public Schools. It’s a beautiful facility featuring a new lap pool, zero-entry family pool, lazy river, four slides, and other features. Be sure to check it out this summer.

· The new library project has wrapped up the “quiet phase” of fundraising and has already surpassed its fundraising goal for this period! The public-private partnership between the City, the library, and our residents is going to result in a new facility in Military Park that will serve the 21st Century needs of our community. Over the coming year, it will be exciting to see the community engaged in contributing to its design and construction.

· We’ve welcomed investment by new businesses in our community, such as the long-awaited Freddy’s restaurant; Human Plant Solutions, which makes medical prosthetics from hemp; and GAF Materials, a leading roofing manufacturer that is purchasing property in the Kansas Logistics Park. And a number of our existing businesses are expanding, including Prestressed Concrete, Bunting, and Standridge Color Corp.

· Housing growth is also having a resurgence this year, with new single-family development in Summer Crossing and Sand Creek Station, multi-family development in Cottonwood Crossing Phase II, and senior housing at Harvest Pointe near First and Boyd.

· Site work has begun on a new publicly accessible wetlands park being developed in collaboration with the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams and funding from the R. Michael Rhoades Foundation. When it’s complete next year, the park will include a walking trail with elevated boardwalks, interpretative signage, and berms for wildlife viewing – a brand new type of amenity for our community.

· New ballfields are being designed for Centennial Park, which will open up Newton for youth tournaments with the potential to bring hundreds of players and families to our community every year.

· Infrastructure is under construction on South Kansas Avenue that will improve traffic safety in one of our busiest areas in town and will be in place to serve new commercial development. The project was funded with more than $2.1 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

· New programs are now in place to help with distressed properties and upkeep in our neighborhoods. The Rehabilitation Rebate Program assists residents with painting or guttering work on older homes; the Sidewalk Repair Rebate Program helps property owners pay for necessary repairs to sidewalks; the Bulky-Item Tagging Program helps to clear junk from our public streets.

· The Community Development Commission – we call it “Choose Newton” – was established to make progress on commercial, retail, housing, and other development, and positive marketing of our community. One of its first initiatives was the creation of a land bank, which will help to get distressed properties redeveloped to productive use.

· By applying for Community Development Block Grant funding from the Kansas Department of Commerce, we were able to award $150,000 to local businesses that struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic.

· City staff and Commission have continued strong financial management and tight budgeting, allowing us to achieve yet another year without a property tax increase. Our Finance staff has led us through several bond refinancing projects, saving us more than $2.6 million in future interest costs.

Planning is underway now for Newton’s Sesquicentennial (or 150th anniversary) in 2022. We will have opportunities for the whole community to celebrate together. My hope is that the coming year will be one of unprecedented community pride and excitement for Newton. We have so much to celebrate!

Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve as your Mayor in 2021. I wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season.

— Rich Stinnett has served as a Newton City Commissioner since 2019. He can be reached at rstinnett@newtonkansas.com.