City, Castner agree to stay in judge’s order

The city of Homer and Ken Castner have agreed to a stay of a judge’s order enforcing a decision in Castner’s favor regarding the Homer Natural Gas Special Assessment District. On April 3, Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet ordered the city to cease its method for assessing condominium owners for natural gas service, calling that method “disproportionate” and “arbitrary and unreasonable.” The agreement stays the order while the city seeks a judicial review with the Alaska Supreme Court.

The city assessed 113 condo units by parcel and not by lot, but in Castner’s case, split a $3,262.77 assessment three ways for the three office condos in the Kachemak Bay Title Company Building in which he and two others own condos.

Following Huguelet’s order, the Homer City Council at an emergency meeting on April 7 met in executive session to consider its legal response to the order. The council directed City Attorney Thomas Klinkner to petition the Alaska Supreme Court for a judicial review of Huguelet’s order. On Friday, April 17, Castner and the city agreed to terms for a stay of the order pending disposition of the city’s petition.

The agreement also suspends the time other condominium owners have to file an administrative appeal with the Superior Court. That deadline has been extended to 30 days after the date of disposition of the city’s petition. “Disposition” means if the Alaska Supreme Court denies the petition, the court makes a final decision on the merits of the petition or the city voluntarily dismisses its petition.

The city also agreed not to deliver payment statements to the 113 condominium units — not counting the units in Castner’s Kachemak Bay Title Company Building — charged the full assessment of $3,262.77 for each unit. Upon disposition, the city also agreed not to deliver statements to the condo owners without Superior Court approval unless the Supreme Court finds in the city’s favor.

The 113 condo units are on 17 lots, according to City Manager Katie Koester. If the condos were assessed by lot and not by tax parcel, that would be a net loss of 96 assessments that would be charged to the entire assessment district, including the condo owners.

In 2013, Castner challenged the city’s method of assessing properties by the tax parcel and not by lot. On Jan. 6, 2014, Huguelet ruled in favor of Castner, saying that the assessment method was unlawful as it applied to condo owners. Huguelet said the condos should be collectively subject to only one assessment per lot. In February 2014, the city decided not to appeal Huguelet’s decision.

However, following a Jan. 12, 2015, executive session meeting, the council said it would stick to the original assessment plan. In February, Castner filed a motion for the city to show cause why it was not in contempt of court for defying Huguelet’s decision. The council in March corrected the assessment roll for Castner’s and two other condos in the Kachemak Bay Title Company Building, but not for the other 113 condos in the assessment district.

The April 3 order came out of Castner’s motion asking the court to enforce its Jan. 6, 2014, decision.

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

 

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