In a Homer City Council meeting that covered everything from opposition to U.S. Navy war games in the spring to whether cannabis workers should have criminal background checks, the council returned to a perennial topic: the budget.
The council also postponed action on an ordinance to allow further public testimony, an ordinance amending animal control rules. That ordinance will be heard at the Aug. 22 meeting.
On an amendment introduced by council member Bryan Zak and passed 4-3, with Homer Mayor Beth Wythe breaking a tie vote, the council set aside $94,000 in liability insurance savings for the 2017 budget. That money would go for employee health insurance next year.
City Manager Katie Koester said it’s a pretty safe bet that health insurance will increase.
The original ordinance proposed mid-year budget adjustments that would replenish department reserves to pay for things like $40,000 to replace a snowplow at the harbor or $1,500 for a new automatic external defibrillator at the Homer Public Library.
Koester said the savings came about in a renegotiation with its liability insurance carrier, the Alaska Municipal League Joint Insurance Association.
Zak had introduced a similar amendment to put the savings into 2017 health insurance at the July 25 meeting, but it failed then. Council member Heath Smith brought the idea back.
Smith said he wasn’t willing to support Zak’s idea then and wanted some clarification on the department budget requests. Zak then amended the ordinance. Zak, Smith and council member Gus VanDyke voted for the amendment, and council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds voted no.
The council also considered resolutions taking stands against other government policies:
• Resolution 16-081, opposing the siting and timing of U.S. Navy training exercises that would be held in May in the Gulf of Alaska;
• Resolution 16-083, supporting the Cannabis Advisory Commission’s recommendation against a Marijuana Control Board proposal requiring federal background checks and fingerprinting for anyone receiving a marijuana handler permit, and
• Resolution 16-087, a resolution opposing the National Park Service’s closure of the Homer field office for Lake Clark National Park.
On a 3-3 tie vote, Wythe broke the tie and voted no on the Cannabis Advisory Commissions’ recommendation. The other two resolutions passed.
Opposition to the Navy training exercises got the most public testimony, with 10 people supporting the resolution. The Navy proposes to change its war game exercises from the winter to May. That’s a time when many whales will be in the war game zone in the Gulf of Alaska, said humpback whale research biologist Olga von Ziegesar. High-volume sonar and explosives could affect species like the rare northern right whale, now down to 31 animals, she said. Von Ziegesar and other speakers mentioned the impact from sonar, explosives and toxic wastes that would come from the war games. They also mentioned that the games would be at a time when more whales would be in the area.
Emily Stolarcyk, Eyak Preservation Council program manager of Cordova, also made a public presentation on the Navy plans. The Navy currently is seeking reauthorization for another 5 years of its Environmental Impact Statement and is preparing a final supplemental EIS. She said a new resolution is needed in response to the proposed changes.
Comments on that EIS can be made until Aug. 29 at GOA Supplemental EIS/OEIS Project Manager, EV21 1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203, Silverdale, WA 98315-1101. The plan is available at the Homer Public Library or online at www.goaeis.com.
In council debate on the resolution, Zak wanted to go even further and oppose war games at all in the Gulf of Alaska. Correspondence in the council packet from Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office asked the council to postpone its resolution until a Murkowski aide could meet with the Navy and then the council to address the council’s concerns.
Lewis said the response from Murkowski only came because he asked Koester to check with Murkowski to see what Alaska’s senior U.S. senator was doing about the Navy’s war game proposal after first raising the issue a year ago.
“We never heard diddly,” Lewis said. “Their timing seems a little funny. I’m not going to vote to postpone and I think we should push it through.”
On Zak’s amendment, Reynolds said she wondered if by strengthening it the result would be to dilute its effect. In her presentation, and in response to council questions, Stolarcyk said it would be best to oppose the timing of the war games and not moving them entirely. Zak’s amendment failed, 5-1.
Wythe asked the council to introduce an amendment saying that “the city recognizes the value of naval practices in preparing our Navy for war time activities.” Lewis introduced that amendment, and it passed 4-2. The council then voted without objection to the amended resolution.
On the matter of marijuana handler’s permit, Lewis said he brought the Cannabis Advisory Commission recommendation to the council because the permit requirements were too stringent. He said the parallel should be with alcohol servers and liquor store clerks. In commercial cannabis industries, all workers would have to have a handler’s permit — even the person who cleaned floors. Lewis said only people handling cannabis should need a handler’s permit.
Smith pointed out that there’s not an exact parallel between the alcohol and cannabis industries.
“I know there’s a stance it (cannabis) should be treated like alcohol, but it’s different than alcohol,” Smith said.
“It is different,” Lewis said of cannabis. “It doesn’t make you violent.”
On a final vote, though, with Lewis, Aderhold and Reynolds voting no, and Smith, VanDyke and Zak voting no, Wythe again broke a tie vote and voted no.
On the animal control ordinance, that action had been up for a public hearing and second reading, but a citizen, Dorothy Melambianakis, wrote in a letter that she did not find a public notice of a proposed substitute ordinance being introduced. On a recommendation from City Clerk Jo Johnson, the council added another public hearing for the ordinance and approved the substitute, 16-38(s) to take the place of the original ordinance. That substitute will have a second reading and final action at the Aug. 22 meeting, starting at 6 p.m. in the Cowles Council Chambers.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.