(2) Enhancing Community Amenities

When the steering committee included enhancing community amenities in the vision statement, it did so knowing this is a chicken-or-egg concept. Attractive community amenities — features such as parks, new shopping districts, recreation centers, and libraries — are key to recruiting new businesses and residents to a community.

However, these items are expensive, so expanding the tax base first makes the cost of such amenities more affordable to taxpayers.

Which comes first: A larger tax base, or more community amenities?

Prioritizing

Since there are no right or wrong answers to this question, the City must continue to work both sides of the equation. Johnson said that it will be important to routinely check in with the community to see what projects residents most want to invest their tax dollars in.

“We need scientifically valid data to draw from to know what the priorities are. Such information is invaluable when the commission is trying to make decisions,” Johnson said. “It keeps us on track and working toward the community’s overall goals.”

As part of The ReNewton Project, the City commissioned a survey to identify residents’ satisfaction with community services, and their priorities for future initiatives. More than 1,600 surveys were sent out to a random sampling of residents, of which 573 were returned, giving the City a response rate of 36 percent and a 95 percent confidence level in the results.

One question asked respondents to rank five quality-of-life projects by order of importance. The results found that the redevelopment of downtown had the highest ranking, with park improvements, recreation center, development of south side, and expansion of the library following in that order.

A Dialogue

This past fall and winter, the city has used Facebook to collect information and take people’s temperatures about a variety of possible projects in the comprehensive plan, everything from the more long-term idea of creating a commuter train between Newton and Wichita to more short-term actions such as expanding the library.

“The Facebook discussion has been a great experiment. We’ve received a lot of insightful responses,” said Barb Burns, coordinator of community advancement and a member of the steering committee. “Newton has hundreds of Facebook friends, and we see this as an easy way for the community dialogue to expand and continue in the future.”

The Plan

To enhance community amenities (library, recreation, parks, trails), the plan suggests that the community should:

  • Strengthen economic, social, and cultural connections with the surrounding communities in south-central Kansas.
  • Prioritize initiatives that promote education and health/wellness.
  • Strengthen its relationship with Bethel College, and its students, alumni, and faculty to fully assimilate the college and its cultural assets.

Insights

“The community needs to communicate their priorities to us through various and sundry ways. It might be through a survey, or it could just be what people say to us as we meet with them casually — whether they think the project is important — to help us decide which projects to pursue.”
— Willis Heck, 2010-2011 Mayor