The Homer City Council met in person Monday for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the newly renovated Cowles Council Chambers located in City Hall. The City Council last met in the chambers March 23, 2020.
“It is really cool to be back in chambers with everybody,” council member Rachel Lord said.
At the top of a long agenda, the city council amended and adopted the fiscal year 2022-2023 capital budget after it was postponed from the June 28 meeting. The approved capital budget, Ordinance 21-36(S-2), removed several budget items, including the $87,000 deputy fire chief command unit request, and reallocated $21,000 for the exterior painting of the Homer Airport.
The council requested a project overview for the deputy chief command unit to further understand the needs of the fire department before funding the fleet replacement.
The council also adopted ordinances regulating boat traffic in city tidal zones, continued consideration of a marijuana public use ordinance, voted down a term limits proposal and accepted council member Joey Evensen’s resignation.
The council also overturned Mayor Ken Castner’s budget line item reductions in the fiscal year 2022-2023 operating budget in Memorandum 21-124, which was unanimously adopted June 28, 2021. Castner’s budget vetoes reduced expenditures to the Port and Harbor Fund and Water and Sewer Fund in administrative fees to fix the negative balance in the CARMA funds.
While council members agreed the current budget is “imperfect,” council members Lord, Heath Smith and Donna Aderhold agreed the discussion should have been brought to the table before the budget was approved and said the issues cannot be fixed through line item reductions.
“I don’t support the vetoes, and primarily what I don’t support is the process by which you came to them,” Lord said. “We spent, council spent hours in budget work sessions this spring. I personally spent hours talking to the city manager and public works director and the port director. We worked together. Staff spent time taking the feedback we gave them regarding administrative transfer and going through all of the ways those are calculated and making it better with input from the full council. Those assumptions that came back to us were imperfect as all assumptions are, but they are replicatable, and they are stated. We can see these are the administrative fees and this is how we got to these numbers.”
“This budget passed unanimously. To have a unanimous decision by the council on a presented budget and then to have it come back with vetoes in it seems to say to me that the case was not made sufficiently to the council at the time of the presentation of the budget to change the minds of those that made the decision,” Smith said. “What I would encourage the mayor to do is actually bring forth policy that the council can consider in changing the things that did not get to the point to satisfy him. … Just because we fix it through veto doesn’t mean we solve anything on the other end of it.”
Aderhold shared her concerns for equitably in the line item vetoes.
“It needs to be equitable between the general fund, the special utility and the enterprise fund,” Aderhold explained. “We need to find that sweet spot, and evidently, we haven’t done that yet. I’m certainly up for more discussion about this in the future, but I don’t think line item vetoes is the way to get there.”
City manager Rob Dumouchel later explained a transfer from the general CARMA fund would fix the negative balance since the line item vetoes were overturned.
In order to protect important wildlife habitats and promote public safety, the council adopted Ordinance 21-26 (S) to amend Homer City Code 10.08.210 to extend the no-wake zone throughout city tidelands, close specific tidelands to motorized vehicles and amend the fiscal year 2021 operating budget to authorize the expenditure of $2,000 for motorized vessel regulation changes.
The ordinance states it is unlawful to operate a vessel at a speed greater than 2 miles per hour while entering, leaving and inside the small boat harbor; throughout all city tidelands and while within one-quarter mile of the boundary of the City’s Pioneer Dock; it is unlawful to operate a vessel at a speed that will cause a wake, wash or wave action that can damage, endanger or cause undue distress to any other vessel or wildlife, regardless of the established speed limits; and prohibits all motorized vehicles from the city tidelands.
The council heard testimonies from audience members, including Scott Adams who voiced his disapproval of the ordinance, and Robert Archibald and Rika Mouw, who both supported the legislation.
“I haven’t seen any vessels go into those areas other than kayaks and paddle boarders,” Adams said. “To spend time on something like this and put more signs out, I just think it’s a waste of resources and time.”
Adams claimed everyone already knows not to go in those areas; however, Archibald said the ordinance would educate tourists and newcomers to the rules.
“I think this is probably going to be an acceptable solution that is going to protect the beaches,” Archibald said. “… There is people coming, and if we don’t educate these people, they are not going to have any idea where they can and cannot go.”
Council member Smith voiced his concerns of other residents using the legislation as a pathway to complain about unwanted vessels, such as JetSkis, in local waters.
“My hope is that we are going to be reasonable as residents of the city in understanding that this is now an allowed use, and we’re not just going to find excuses to be calling the harbor master or police in order to create our own level of harassment for these users when and if they come,” Smith said.
The ordinance was adopted with no objections.
The previously postponed consumption of marijuana endorsement in cultivation, manufacturing, testing and retail facilities ordinance was introduced even though the Planning Commission did not support the legislation. The city council last meeting asked the Planning Commission to provide more information regarding their concerns for public consumption, but the group was unable to meet.
“It does bug me pretty significantly that the Planning Commission did not support this,” Council member Lord said. “… I do think this type of ordinance should be coming from a pro-sponsor — somebody who supports it and wants to see it go further.”
A public hearing for the marijuana consumption ordinance will be held Aug. 9 at 6 p.m.
Ordinance 21-43, an ordinance to submit a ballot question concerning city council and mayoral term limits, which was sponsored by former city council member Joey Evensen, failed. The ordinance was introduced during the June 28 meeting to allow voters the opportunity to decide if term limits should be applied to city council members and the mayor.
The council heard comments from Wayne Aderhold in opposition of the ordinance.
“My main point in being against this ordinance is it would most likely disenfranchise a lot of voters. Voters that want to get rid of somebody have the ballot box,” he said. “If you artificially place term limits on a good representative, you are disenfranchising the voters who would like to have that person serving more terms.”
Archibald reminded the council while “new blood” is always good to have, institutional knowledge is invaluable.
Council member Aderhold said the council had received numerous comments in opposition of the ordinance, and Smith shared that while the council shouldn’t be afraid to let the electorate decide, the ballot question would more than likely fail anyways.
“I am never afraid to let the electorate decide, so the idea that we’re going to be selective on what we’re going to let them decide on or not let them decide on or make them go through a voter initiative or not go through a voter initiative in order to have that ability to decide to me is back and forth and wishy-washy,” Smith said. “For the record, I am not afraid to let the electorate make the decision whether we agree with what that may be or not be. … But I also don’t think, in my honest opinion, that it would pass if we put it on the ballot.”
Ultimately, the ordinance failed 0-5.
The council also voted to adopt Memorandum 21-119 in the consent agenda, accepting former council member Joey Evensen’s resignation. Evensen submitted his resignation letter July 8, stating the council’s “consistent lack of productivity and the strongly unpleasant work environment” as his reason to step down. The council will appoint a new a new member who will then serve until the Oct. 5 election. A successor will be elected to serve Evensen’s remaining year.
Smith, whose council seat is up for election in October, shared at the end of the meeting he planned to run for the balance of the term for Evensen’s vacant chair instead of reelection for his own seat. Smith has served two terms.
Council member Donna Aderhold’s seat also will be up for election. The candidacy filing period for council seats begins Aug. 1, and declaration forms are available on the website.
The next Homer City Council meeting will be Aug. 9 in the Cowles Council Chambers. The meeting will also be available on Zoom.
For more information about the July 26 city council meeting, visit www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-regular-meeting-231.