For the first time since former Homer City Council member Joey Evensen resigned on July 9, the council met with a full, six-member council on Monday night — but not all in the same room.
Under the hybrid meeting plan, four council members, including newly appointed member Jason Davis, attended using the Zoom online platform while two others met with Mayor Ken Castner in the COVID-19 cautious Cowles Council Chambers. All members physically present wore masks under the city’s new guidance requiring face coverings in public areas at all city facilities.
The combination of high-tech virtual attendance and in-person presence led to some technical glitches, as when the audio cut out in the council chambers while the Zoom attendees still had sound. Those hiccups could serve as a symbol of what the council did — or didn’t — do in an evening where agenda items were voted down or postponed as much as they were passed.
In one of two actions regarding water and sewer improvements, upon the recommendation of Public Works Director Janette Keiser, the council voted 6-0 against Ordinance 21-49 appropriating an additional $139,502 from the Homer Accelerated Water and Sewer Program to finish the Alder Lane Water Improvement Project. Keiser recommended voting down the ordinance because three bids submitted exceeded the project budget, with the bids taking the project 30% over the original estimate.
“We believe the prices are higher than expected because the construction market conditions in the local area are not conducive to an affordable bid,” Keiser wrote in a memo to the council.
Or, as council member Smith said on Monday night, “The benefit is surpassed by the cost increase.”
In another vote on a water-sewer project, the council voted to substitute Resolution, 21-057(s) to acknowledge the sufficiency of the Bunnell Avenue/Charles Way Water and Sewer Improvement Special Assessment District in the Bishop’s Beach area of Old Town and allocate the cost on a benefited basis. The water and sewer improvements would address an anachronism of the city: that in the historical heart of Homer, some residents still use outhouses and haul in drinking water.
The benefited basis charges property owners based on the size of their lot. Smaller lots would be charged about $3,200 for water and $12,000 for sewer, but some large lots — including the city’s park at Bishop’s Beach — would be charged up to $23,000 for water and $86,000 for sewer.
But when it came time to vote to approve the substitute, council member Donna Aderhold raised a point: Had all property owners received notice of the differences in cost? Keiser said at neighborhood meetings the different approaches had been discussed. Most property owners agreed the benefited formula would be best.
City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen said a notice of hearing had been published twice, and notices sent by certified mail to property owners. City code doesn’t specify if owners have to be sent a notice if the assessment methodology changed.
“In my mind, I have to ask the queston if that’s fair if it goes from one to another?” Jacobsen said.
In response to a question by Smith if the project was time sensitive, Keiser said that it wouldn’t be built this year and that design would happen over the winter, with construction in 2022. Smith said, in terms of process, it seemed best to give those who might object more time to do so.
On a motion by council member Rachel Lord, the council agreed to give the property owners more notice of the change in method and to consider the resolution at its Oct. 25 meeting.
The council did hear a report on the current COVID-19 situation from public health officials and a report by the Public Works Campus Task Force. The campus lies below the 50-foot maximum inundation, or blue, line of a tsunami event. The task force recommended moving important equipment, repair garages and some offices to a safer location above the blue line on Lake Street.
The council’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, in the Cowles Council Chambers.
Reach Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.