Council debates roads, rec

At recent meetings, Homer City Council members have debated philosophical issues such as “Should Homer allow commercial cannabis?” Monday night, the council got down to the nuts and bolts of running government — funding.

In two issues on the agenda, the council looked at these money matters:

• How much in administration costs should be spent on a proposed $638,000 repaving project?

• Should the city support the proposed South Peninsula Area Recreational Complex, and if so, how much and from what fund?

After reconsidering and then postponing at its April 11 meeting an ordinance that would repave nine city streets, the council took up the item again. 

Ordinance 16-10 would appropriate from the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails fund $638,000 to repave all or portions of East Bunnell Avenue, Beluga Place, Early Spring Street, Mark White Avenue, Mullikin Street, Clover Lane, Clover Place, Hillview Place and Kachemak Way. 

HART is a fund paid for by a .75-percent sales tax, but in a city vote last December, voters approved suspending contributions to that fund and instead using about $1 million raised annually to fund general government services.

Citing a spreadsheet error in the original proposal that didn’t cover a full contingency cost, in a memorandum, Public Works Superintendent Dan Gardner asked for another 5 percent, or 15 percent total, bringing the cost up to a not-to-exceed amount of $700,000. A contingency percentage is added to construction projects going out to bid in the event bids come back higher than estimated.

In public comments on the ordinance, Ken Castner, who does cost estimates as part of his job, said he thought a 15-percent contingency was too high. Projects like road repaving have predictable costs that the state of Alaska publishes, Castner said.

“When we’re dealing with civil projects, I think we can be closer than 15 percent,” he said.

That criticism was picked up by several council members. Council member Catriona Reynolds said she agreed that a repaving project had predictable costs and was more comfortable with the $638,000 number.

A motion by council member David Lewis to increase the project to $700,000 failed, with only Lewis and council member Donna Aderhold voting yes.

Council member Heath Smith also objected to the higher contingency fee but also raised questions about a 15-percent administrative fees charged to the project. He said a percentage of the HART fund already had been taken out to pay for city administration. 

“It seems like double dipping to me,” he said.

That led into a discussion of that percentage taken from the HART to fund some administration expenses compared to a 15-percent project administration fee. Mayor Beth Wythe said about 1 percent of trails funds and 4 percent of roads funds goes to what could be called a general administration account — information technology, city hall janitorial services, Public Works administration, Finance Department services and even the city council and city manager’s pay.

The 15-percent project administration fee charged is different. That pays for a Public Works project manager’s time to administer a specific project. In past years when the city had numerous projects happening in one fiscal year, it hired a full-time project manager, paying the employee out of such project administration fees.

Smith made an amendment seeking to take out that 15-percent project administration fee, or $87,000, from the proposed $638,000. That motion failed 5 no votes to Smith’s lone yes vote.

The council also rejected a motion by council member Bryan Zak to scale back the project to $374,391 as a money-saving move. With Zak, Smith and council member Gus VanDyke voting yes, and Lewis, Aderhold and Reynolds voting no, Wythe broke the tie by voting no.

Another amendment by Aderhold to increase the project to $668,000 also failed, with Aderhold and Lewis voting yes. 

Finally, with the original ordinance unamended, the council approved the $638,000 amount, with Smith voting no.

For the SPARC, an indoor multi-use playing field proposed to be built on Kenai Peninsula Borough School District land near Homer Middle School, the council rejected making a $225,000 appropriation to a matching grant fund that would come out of the city’s permanent fund. The SPARC is a project proposed by the Soccer Association of Homer to build a 7,000-square-foot covered field.

Lewis had introduced the ordinance at the April 11 meeting, but said he felt it should now be killed. 

“I’ll come back at a later date with something similar that will have been vetted more and hopefully has gone through Parks and Rec (Advisory Commission) and we can come up with something that is more sustainable,” Lewis said.

The council passed on first reading another proposal to appropriate $189,000 from the general fund to the Homer Foundation for the SPARC, which could make Lewis’ plan to come back with another ordinance moot. The $189,000 appropriation ordinance comes up for a second reading and final action at the May 9 regular city council meeting. The money would be for a 2-1 matching grant to supplement the soccer association’s budget and expand the SPARC to a 12,000-square-foot building. That would make it big enough to add Pickle Ball fields, the popular multi-generational sport now played in the old gym in the Homer Recreation and Education Complex.

“Rarely are there opportunities like this to multiply money. Whatever the city does we’re at least going to double,” said Daniel Zatz of the soccer association.