City Council to discuss Spit parking, Fire Department

On Nov. 28, the council may decide to fund two new full-time firefighter/EMT positions.

The Homer City Council will consider some important prospective ordinances in its last meeting of 2022 when it convenes next Monday, Nov. 28 at the Cowles Council Chambers.

One of the ordinances, which was introduced on Nov. 14, is Ordinance 22-78, brought to the council by the City Manager and the Port Director. This ordinance would appropriate $49,690 from the Port and Harbor Reserves for the design of parking improvements to the parking lots at the Boathouse Pavilion, Seafarer’s Memorial, and harbor ramps three and four.

In a memo from Harbormaster/Port Director Bryan Hawkins to the Homer City Council and Mayor Ken Castner on Nov. 3, Hawkins cited that the goals for the improvements are threefold: “Make the needed physical improvements to the unimproved parking lots on the South side of the harbor.”

“Better address some of the long-standing issues with those lots, such as drainage, miserable potholes and congestion, and the inefficient and unorganized use of the space.”

“Increase parking revenues to help pay for the cost of the improvements and fund future parking improvements Spit wide.”

In order to complete this work, the city would hire HDL Engineering Consultants of Anchorage.

Previously the city had already hired HDL to perform a parking study for the south side parking lots on the Homer Spit, which resulted in recommendations for making improvements to those high-traffic areas.

The ordinance proposal states that “future revenues from fee parking could be used to pay back the Port & Harbor Reserves Account for these improvements.”

Additionally, the ordinance declares that the improvements must be in place by “May of 2023 and that planning, funding, and scheduling need to be done soon in order to give time … to complete the work on that timeline.”

Currently a $5 fee per calendar day is charged to park vehicles in paved parking lots at Ramps 1, 2, 3 and 4. All other Spit parking lots are free for seven consecutive 24-hour days, before necessitating the purchase of a long-term parking pass or of moving one’s vehicle, according to the City of Homer website.

However, during a Port and Harbor Advisory Commission Regular Meeting on Sept. 28, the commission recommended changing the daily parking fee from $5 to $10. During this same meeting, there was also discussion about concerns “raised for creating new parking spaces and then turning around and making the parking fee higher, like a double-whammy.”

If Ordinance 22-78 is enacted, parking rates and the zones in which they are enforced may be subject to change.

Another ordinance being considered on Monday is Ordinance 22-77, which proposes that the city enter into an on-call services contract with the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society.

The KBCS is “a local not-for-profit organization, which is willing and able to assist the City with its public outreach and education efforts.” The organization is primarily funded by grants and donations.

This contractual relationship would be “for the purpose of engaging the KBCS’ expertise on designated questions/projects,” specifically in regards to “an ambitious program to integrate green infrastrucure into [the city’s] water management strategies.”

In order to enter this relationship, the city would appropriate $25,000 from the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails (HART) Road Fund for the issuing of a contract.

A third ordinance which will be considered is Ordinance 22-82. This ordinance seeks to appropriate $652,500 from the General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance to fund two full-time firefighter/EMT positions for the Homer Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) through the end of fiscal year 2025.

In a memo sent on Oct. 31 to Mayor Castner and the Homer City Council, City Manager Rob Dumouchel wrote, “The Volunteer Fire Department needs help.”

Dumouchel went on to explain the reasons for this need, citing the decline in volunteerism over the years, the increase in call volumes and the aging fleet of the Department. He included a map showing the increase in new housing construction in Homer since 2013. A chart shows HVFD calls have gone up from 621 in 2015 to 750 this year.

“All of these items together are having negative impacts on the Department’s ability to operate and provide services at the level expected by the community,” Dumouchel wrote. “With the addition of these two new full-time firefighter/EMT positions the Department would be able to maintain minimum staffing 24/7.”

“Ideally, we’d add a third position in the near future to provide coverage for sick leave, vacations, training, etc.” he also wrote. “The alternative to increasing our staffing is spending significantly more money on overtime and potentially burning out a team of highly trained employees.”

Dumouchel’s memo to the council also notes that most of the fire fleet’s vehicles are very old and starting to fail in ways “that we may not be able to bring them back into service.”

Moreover, Dumouchel points out in his memo that of HVFD, Kachemak Emergency Service Area and Western Emergency Services, Homer’s department has the smallest budget and firefighting staff, despite serving a more developed area and “conducting significantly more calls.”

Further, he suggests that it is “going to take a while to effectively meet the needs of the Fire/EMS fleet.”

However, the adoption of Ordinance 22-82 would contribute to meeting the needs, providing staff that would greatly help the Homer Volunteer Fire Department.

The Homer City Council will make decisions on these three ordinances during their Regular Meeting on Nov. 28.