Council spikes pay increase, but will reconsider it Feb. 9

Although the Homer City Council appropriated pay raises for council members and the mayor in the 2015 budget, an ordinance setting those raises into law failed 3-2 at the council’s regular meeting on Monday. 

Council members Beau Burgess, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds voted in favor of the ordinance, but fell one vote short of the 4-vote threshold required to take actions. Council members Bryan Zak and Gus VanDyke voted against the ordinance, and council member Francie Roberts was excused from the meeting due to illness.

However, after the meeting, VanDyke asked for reconsideration, and the ordinance will be back on the agenda for the Feb. 9 regular meeting.

Last December, Burgess introduced an amendment moving $13,000 from legal services to personnel costs to increase the council stipend from $50 a month and the mayor’s pay of $75 a month to $75 a meeting day or $50 if attending telephonically. 

If passed on Monday, the stipend increase would have gone into effect this month. Burgess advocated the stipend increase as a way to get more middle- and low-income citizens running for office and compensate them for expenses like baby sitting and meals. 

Roberts also spoke in favor of the stipend increase.

“I think Beau has said it all,” she said then. “He’s totally correct on this issue.”

The stipend increase budget amendment passed without objection.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, Burgess slammed Zak and VanDyke for their no votes.

“I thought it was unfortunate that we decided not to approve a resolution that was approved in the budget,” Burgess said. “It feels like playing politics for the benefit of … I don’t know who. We’ll deal with that when I get back.”

Burgess also criticized the city administration for not providing information he’d requested, getting an as-built drawing showing the location of the natural gas pipelines. Burgess said he wanted to know the location as the council moves forward in considering the final assessment role for the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District, the entity that paid to build the gas line.

In his report, interim City Manager Marvin Yoder said Planning Department and Public Works officials said they felt as-built drawings would be proprietary property belonging to Enstar Natural Gas, the owner of the line paid for by the city. 

Burgess said he didn’t understand why this would be proprietary information when anyone wanting to excavate would get an exact location of the gas line. 

“I’m a little bit frustrated by the feedback from the planning department on this,” he said. “We hired a natural gas company to build a natural gas pipeline, and we can’t know which rights of way we have?”

The council also considered, but tabled, Resolution 15-004, a resolution asking the Alaska Legislature to reappropriate $1.4 million for Waddell Way road improvements to the Public Safety Building project. Mayor Beth Wythe said she hadn’t heard anything concrete about the advisability of that idea from Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer. Seaton had told the Homer News earlier that in the current fiscal climate it would be risky to try to get the grant reallocated.

Wythe also said city officials haven’t had a chance to visit Juneau and meet with the Gov. Bill Walker administration.

“It’s a whole new group of people we don’t have a working relationship with,” Wythe said.

Economic Development Director Katie Koester, a former Seaton aide, told the council it had some until March before it had to make a formal request. On that advice, the council agreed to postpone Resolution 15-004 until its first meeting in March.

The council and mayor also went into executive session with Yoder to discuss matters that would have “an adverse effect upon the finances of the government unit,” and matters of attorney-client privilege. In a memo through City Clerk Jo Johnson, Yoder did not specify those matters. In a phone interview, Yoder said there were several legal cases he wanted to discuss with the council and mayor, including a case recently filed by two families renting homes that had been damaged in a 2013 sewage flood (see story, page 8). The council met in executive session at the end of its meeting, and had no public statement.

The council also passed without discussion and objection Ordinance 14-56(a), an ordinance amending city code that would allow property owners to correct zoning code violations as part of the process of getting a new zoning permit (see story, page 8).

The council also authorized the city manager to apply for a $600,000 Alaska Drinking Water Fund loan for phase 1 of the Homer Water Distribution/Storage Improvement Project. Burgess was recused from voting on that resolution because the project is near his Shellfish Avenue home.

The council meets at 5 p.m. Monday for a special meeting to interview city manager applicants. Its next regular meeting is 6 p.m. Feb. 9 in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall.