Council changes harbor rates, continues to mull consolidation of dispatch

In the first regular meeting of the new Homer City Council and chaired by new Homer Mayor Bryan Zak, the council picked up some unfinished business left from previous meetings. In a meeting with five public hearing items, the meeting ran until 9 p.m. The council passed two main resolutions:

• Resolution 16-054, amending the fee schedule to implement a new graduated harbor moorage rate structure, and

• Resolution 16-111, rejecting a proposal to consolidate 911 dispatch services with the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

However, on Tuesday morning, council member Donna Aderhold, who voted to reject the dispatch consolidation proposal, called for reconsideration. The motion to reconsider will come up at the Nov. 28 meeting, and if reconsidered, can be amended and voted on again.

Zak, a former council member, stayed in his old seat but in a new role running the meeting. New members Shelly Erickson and Tom Stroozos, both Homer Advisory Planning Commission veterans joined current members David Lewis, Catriona Reynolds, Heath Smith and Aderhold, who attended telephonically from Cordova.

The graduated harbor rate structure shifts from a flat, per-foot mooring structure to a rate that increases based on a boat’s length.

The rate is calculated at a base rate of $43.49 plus 5-cents a foot per vessel length and uses the formula “$43.49 + ($.05/foot x vessel length in feet).” For example, a 20-foot boat would have the base rate of $43.49 and add $1, or 20 times 5 cents, for a lineal-foot rate of $44.49 or $889.80 per year for a 20-foot boot. That compares to the current per-linear-foot rate of $43.49, or $869.80 annually, for a 20-foot boat. The proposed rate is capped at 86 feet.

The council has already passed a resolution increasing moorage and dockage rates 3.2 percent annually for 10 years, plus the percent change in the Consumer Price Index. The new rate structure would increase revenues slightly on top of the previous increase. Revenues go to the Port and Harbor Enterprise Fund, which supports harbor activities

The proposal was introduced earlier this year, with a public hearing on June 13, another public hearing on Sept. 26 and a work session with public comment on Oct. 17. That meeting brought a full house of mariners from small-boat owners to crabbers who spoke both against and for changing the rate structure.

Testimony on Monday was again mixed.

“I don’t think it’s fair and equitable,” said Mako Haggerty, owner of Mako’s Water Taxi, a fleet of small boats. “The end result is it that it makes the small vessels subsidize the enterprise fund.”

Commercial fisherman Mark Milne said he supports the new rate structure.

“I think we all hashed this out more than anyone cared to admit,” he said. “We support this resolution as a compromise.”

“You heard a few of the larger vessel owners refer to this as a compromise,” said another small-boat owner, Bob Howard. “It is not a compromise.”

Another harbor user, Dave Mastolier, also said he supported the resolution.

“I’m not happy my rates are going to go up. I don’t think anyone is happy,” he said. “The larger the vessel, the more your rates are going to go up. The smaller the vessel, the lower the rate … I don’t think anyone is going to walk away from this jumping up and down with joy.”

On a 5-1 vote, with Lewis voting no, the resolution passed. However, to go into effect, the council also must pass a companion resolution, 16-112, a tariff that implements the rate schedule. The tariff is the actual published document listing all the harbor rates for the year. The council postponed action on the tariff until a public hearing at its Nov. 28 meeting.

On the consolidated dispatch resolution, the council held a briefing at its work session with KPB Mayor Mike Navarre and his staff. Consolidation proposes to eliminate dispatchers at the Homer Police Department and have the Soldotna dispatch center handle all 911 calls for Homer. The center already handles calls outside city limits for emergency services like the Alaska State Troopers, Kachemak Emergency Services, Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Services, and Ninilchik Emergency Services. When a person dials 911, that call goes to Soldotna, and once the caller’s location is calculated either as a landline or cell phone call, it is routed by computer to Homer if the call is in city limits.

Council member Smith had pushed the consolidation idea as a cost-savings measure, but also as a way to reduce costs for a proposed new police station.

Consolidation could lead to more efficient service and possibly lower costs, Navarre said. He said he understood making a hard decision that could affect jobs and families in Homer.

“We don’t want to create angst,” he said. “Our goal is we can’t force you to do anything, nor do we intend to. This is just an open discussion.”

Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said he thought consolidation was a bad idea. He cited the issue of redundancies — the ability of the system to still work if a trunk line to Soldotna was lost — and local knowledge as big concerns.

HPD Dispatcher Janie Probst spoke of the camaraderie that develops between dispatchers and officers working in the same building. That would be lost in consolidation, she said. Dispatchers also assist officers in administrative tasks. They handle routine phone calls on the nonemergency line. The female dispatchers even pat down female prisoners because none of the jail officers are women.

“There are many, many things that cannot be provided by someone who is 70 or 80 miles up the road,” she said. “I believe … I don’t believe, I know, taking away dispatch will be a huge disservice to our community.”

Those points helped sway the council in passing the resolution rejecting consolidation. The council first passed on a 4-3 vote, Zak breaking the tie, an amendment removing the word “accept” from the resolution. Reynolds, Lewis and Stroozas voted yes on the amendment. On a motion to remove the “accept” option in the resolution — that is, rejecting consolidation — on a 4-2 vote the council passed the resolution, with Lewis, Reynolds, Stroozas and Aderhold voting yes. On the final motion, the same four voted to pass the resolution rejecting consolidation.

Aderhold said she called for reconsideration because she felt the resolution as passed didn’t allow for middle ground.

“The way it was worded I felt like we were going full bore. I felt boxed in,” she said. “We don’t have enough information to make a decision at this point.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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