The Newton City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday to consider a request by some downtown property owners to re-establish a self-supporting improvement district with the extra property taxes levied on the commercial property owners going toward making improvements in the area.
Earlier this year, a committee comprised of downtown business operators Joe Urias, Bruce Showalter and Bonnie Terpstra, and Chamber Director Darrell Sarmento filed a petition seeking to re-establish a Downtown Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID).
Until 2006 and for 20 years prior, an eight-block area surrounding the Jasper County Courthouse had previously held a SSMID designation with the $1.75 per $1,000 taxable value assessment going toward such things as lighting, flowers and other improvements in the area, projects decided upon by the business owners in the district.
The proposal before the council includes that same eight block area but expands it to encompass commercial properties north and south of First Avenue between West Fourth Street and East Fourth Street. The proposal also calls for a lower levy rate of $1 per $1,000 taxable value with the distrcit to sunset five years after establishment. Based on the total value of the proposed district at approximately $13.9 million, the $1 levy would generate about $13,900 each year. The money would be placed into a special fund overseen by a board comprised of property owners within the district.
In order for the first reading of the ordinance to pass on Monday, following closure of the public hearing, five of the six council members would be required to vote for its approval. However, if a petition against its establishment signed by at least 25 percent of the owners in the proposed district representing 25 percent of taxable value is submitted at any time during the three readings process, the council is required by state law to vote unanimously on its passage. The proposal would be withdrawn if a petition containing the signatures of 40 percent of ownership representing 40 percent of value is filed at any time during the process.
Upon final council approval, which would not occur until its July 18 meeting, the support of three-fourths of the property owners within the district would need to be secured. There are 121 properties within the district.
City officials are supportive of efforts to re-establish the downtown improvement district citing a recent citizen survey where 64 percent of respondents indicated that improving the downtown business area is "very important" to growth issues facing the community.
"The proposal represents the growing community desire to address curb appeal issues, as well as bring back some team work and cohesiveness to the Downtown Business District," the report to council states. "Recent efforts ranging from the High School Red Pride Service Day to the growing Chamber of Commerce membership; from the high degree of public involvement in Comprehensive Plan effort to the hundreds of hours dedicated to the Downtown by the Historic Preservation Commission all indicate that the community is ready to make some signficant improvements to the appearance and business environment in Newton, especially downtown."