Council passes gas roll

After public hearings, hundreds of letters and dozens of people testifying, the Homer City Council on Monday passed the final roll for the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District. 

With a project cost of $12.3 million, 3,787 parcels will be assessed $3,262.77 for each parcel’s share of constructing a distribution line that provides nearly every lot in the city with natural gas. The council exempted 67 parcels for issues such as lots not being served. 

About 100 of the parcels assessed include condominium owners. Despite a court case pending against the city, the council did not follow a January 2014 decision by Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet in Ken Castner v. City of Homer that the natural gas assessment ordinance was “arbitrary and unreasonable” as it applied to condos. Castner successfully sued the city on the assessment for his condo in the Kachemak Bay Title Company Building.

Condo owners reacted angrily to the council’s action.

“You shake your head. How could they?” said Amy Springer, owner of a condo in a six-unit complex on Bay Avenue. “How could they ignore this and continue on thinking it’s right?”

“I think it’s wrong that the judge has made a ruling and the city has made a ruling and not applied it to the other condos,” said Shelli Gordon, owner of one of the Land’s End Lodgings condos on the Homer Spit.

As of Tuesday morning, Huguelet had not responded to a motion filed by Castner in February asking the city to show cause for its failure to comply with the judge’s decision.

 

Castner asked the court to enforce its decision not just as it applies to the Kachemak Bay Title Company Building, but to all other condos. Huguelet did order Castner to serve such notice on the city, but he has not issued any orders related to the gas assessments since. 

At its March 9 meeting, the council passed a resolution setting the assessment for each of three condominium parcels in Castner’s building at $1,079.05, amended to $1,086.50 on Monday. The council changed the roll and assessed the condos by one-third, the percentage interest it thinks Castner and two other owners, Michael and Shila Hough, have in the condominium association.

On March 12, the city’s attorney, Thomas Klinkner, filed a notice of compliance with the court claiming the city had satisfied Huguelet’s decision as it applied to Castner. Castner replied to that notice, saying that the city “remains committed to assessing other condominium unit owners using the method that the court ruled to be unlawful.” He sought an injunction to stop the process, but Huguelet did not act by the time the council passed the final roll on Monday. 

No one testified at a final public hearing Monday, and the council did not discuss the resolution setting the roll, passing it unanimously. Most discussion and amendments exempting the roll happened at a special meeting held March 16. Numerous people testified and submitted written objections. 

Council member Beau Burgess said then that the condos should be considered as a parcel of real property.

Gordon said the council mixed up tax parcels — a legal entity defined by the Kenai Peninsula Borough for assessment purposes — with lots. She said at Land’s End Lodgings, the stub out came to one corner and the association paid $50,000 to extend a service line to condos. 

“They want to assess us based on the larger number of tax parcels, but they only want to deliver the gas to the number of lots within the city,” she said.

Springer said she and other condo owners are waiting for Huguelet to rule on Castner’s motion to show cause. They will decide then what to do next. Under the assessment process, citizens have 30 days to appeal to Superior Court after the roll is approved.

“There probably will be some legal maneuvers, because that’s where people are. They’re angry,” she said.

When Huguelet made his decision in 2014, the city chose not to appeal his ruling and has lost its right to appeal.

Assessment bills become due July 1. Property owners can pay a lump sum or pay annual installments of $405.27 over 10 years. People unable to pay the assessment can apply for a low-income deferral based on federal poverty guidelines. Forms will be available soon at the clerk’s office for people to fill out seeking deferrals.

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


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