Newton City Council accepted the design for three new granite city welcome signs and approved four tax increment financing agreements, including the new West End Reception Center.


The three signs made of gray granite will cost $15,000 from Adams Memorials in Newton. The city plans to place them at entrance points to Newton along the two highways. In other city business last week, the council approved the collective bargaining agreement with Police Labor Union 1197 extending from 2020-24 providing a 3 percent pay raise per year of the contract as well as some changes in benefits for five full-time police officers and the department secretary represented by the Union. In addition, council members approved Newton Aquatic Center wages for the following positions: $16 per hour for the manager, $12.25 for the assistant manager, $10.25 for the lifeguards and $9.25 for concession stand employees, effective May 1, and then raising each by 75 cents more per hour on July 1 for each of the Aquatic Center employee categories.


The votes on those measures were unanimous with all council members present, including Eric Blake, Rob Reisner, Gayle Glumac, Larry Brooks, Dave Brown, Marlene Harris and Mayor Mark Bolander for the April 21 meeting moved to the City Hall garage to conform to social distancing provisions relating to coronavirus.


Tax Increment Financing agreements assist businesses with a portion of the costs for renovations or new projects. This funding comes from the portion of property taxes set aside annually in a TIF district, based on the assessed value of properties from the year the district was created. TIF funds are also used to improve infrastructure and other needs for encouraging developments in a community.


The biggest TIF agreement approved by the council last week assisting the Westend Reception and Event Center project that will be located at 202 Museum Drive in Newton. The estimated total cost of the project is $700,000, as listed on the TIF application form submitted by Doug Weddell. The city will work out in coming weeks how much TIF money will go into that project.


Remedies is a new bistro and bar with carry-out meal service at 602 S. Van Buren St. The owners, Bruce and Debra Hill, will receive $2,460 to help pay for a new tin roof, exterior renovations and gravel for their parking area.


Newton Elite Fitness requested $2,500 for help with roof repair costs related to the expansion to the second floor of the gym located at 120 W. Washington St. The gym, like many other “non-essential” businesses, is experiencing problems with the statewide stay-at-home order aiming to battle the spread of coronavirus. Elite Fitness also submitted a special event application for the Patriot Games, a fitness event, all day on June 27 on the county courthouse lawn and adjacent street. If the precautions against crowds continues into June the schedule can be pushed back to a later date.


TIF agreements were also approved for Jasper County Realty Brokers, Inc., 116 W. Washington, for new windows on the second story, and similar window replacement work at the Verizon office, 118 W. Washington. Jasper County Realty Brokers will be reimbursed $975, and Verizon will receive $587.


In other business, the council accepted the 2020-21 Fiscal Year Budget, which is balanced between expenses and revenues. Residents can look over the budget, which will be posted on the city of Newton website. Logging on is a better idea than stepping into City Hall during the pandemic. Call Newton City Hall if you have questions.


The city appropriated $100,000 in Motor Fuel Tax funds for street maintenance for this year. This is slightly higher than the previous year and could be carried over for additional work, possibly around the Newton Square.


During committee and council reports, aldermen talked about the railroad crossing closure issue and there was no consensus at this time on what street should be shut down. Firefighters are concerned that the shutdown could cause problems for its larger vehicles. CSX Railroad contacted the council on the offering cash to the city for closing a crossing to increase safety.


Council member Larry Brooks said repair work is needed on an issue relating to the South Water Tower. There was also discussion on pushing back the due date for entering the lottery for the property lots at Five Aprils Subdivision “whenever we see a light at the end of the tunnel” on the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Brooks said. Council members also expressed support for the staff, patients and families affected by the virus infections and deaths at Newton Care Center.


The city will host a public hearing on block grants at 5:30 p.m. on May 5. The council also plans to conduct its next meeting via Zoom phone or computer connections that same night at 6 p.m. Check City Hall for more details on public participation options.