City of Newton leaders kicked off their first public meeting to develop a new strategic plan on Thursday night.
Utilities, infrastructure and transportation were among the most-discussed topics of the evening. Newton Public Works Director Dusty Wentz and Planning Director Randy Williams gave presentations on what the city has completed to prepare for the growing population as well as the city’s plans are for the future.
Since 2015, the city has put $1.5 million into street repaving and construction. In 2016, an engineering company came to Newton and surveyed every sidewalk and street within Newton and prioritized them based on their condition.
“So we know we’ve tackled the ones that are worst off first as we pick ‘em off down the line with the money that council appropriates for street recondition,” Williams said.
The city is also working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to widen Highway 16 leading into Newton with 2021 in mind for completion.
“This is probably one of the biggest projects we’ve seen in quite a while in this area,” Williams said.
Wentz said as a part of the Highway 16 project, 12-inch water lines will be installed from Highway 16 to Balls Creek Road and Buffalo Shoals Road with assistance from Catawba County.
The city has put $8.16 million into water and sewer infrastructure. Most of the money went toward new lines, but some was put into upgrading the city’s water and sewer treatment plants.
“The City of Newton has a lot of old water lines and a lot of old sewer lines,” Wentz said. He said many of the lines are brittle and need to be replaced.
For the future, Wentz said his focus is shifting to the sewage treatment plant, which was built in 1976 and has not received any major updates, and the water treatment plant, which was built in 1987 and updated in the early 2000s.
“You can’t find replacement parts for it anymore,” Wentz said. Wentz said his employees have to manufacture replacement parts onsite at the sewage plant fairly often.
After the presentations, city council members and residents broke out into groups to discuss their concerns for Newton’s future and then presented to the entire room. Colt Jenson, an intern with the city and Appalachian State graduate student, facilitated the conversation.
Topics from the discussion included:
- Keeping commercial traffic out of the city
- Connecting sidewalks in front of older buildings that do not have them
- Installing a glorified gateway sign leading into the city
- Bringing Uber and Lyft services to the city
- More accommodation for bicycle riders
- Expanding on the look and feel of downtown
- Preparing for growth in a smart and vibrant way
- Making Newton a better destination for electric car charging by installing more efficient charging areas
- Implementing better utility service for underserved areas/Newton outskirts
- Cost to residents and requirements associated with a new sewage treatment plant
- Planning for services to Startown
- Stormwater runoff and implementing the stormwater enterprise fund
Newton’s next public meeting, which is about parks and public safety, is this coming Thursday from 6-8 p.m.