At Monday night’s Homer City Council meeting, unlike most meetings where council members take positive action on ordinances or resolutions, the Feb. 12 meeting stood out for what the council didn’t do. In three separate votes, the council:
• Granting a request by sponsor and council member Shelly Erickson’s, pulled from the agenda two of her resolutions, 18-018 and 18-018(s), that would have created a Water and Sewer Rate Task Force “with a primary focus on Commercial Rate Equity”;
• Failed to reconsider Ordinance 18-04, passed at the Jan. 22 meeting, allowing some Spit businesses to have caretaker motorhomes.
• Failed to introduce Ordinance 18-07, which would have put a pause on the $670,000 Greatland Street extension.
Erickson introduced her resolutions out of concerns that some high-volume commercial water users had moved their businesses out of the city. Ordinance 18-018 would have resurrected the 2012 Water Sewer Rate Task Force, but directing it to look at commercial rates. The substitute ordinance would have directed the Economic Development Commission to annually review water and sewer rates for high volume users.
“I think it healthy to step back and take a look and make sure we as a city, we are in line,” Erickson said at the Committee of the Whole meeting. “We may find everything is hunky-dory. … We may find we want to make some adjustments.”
Council member Rachel Lord, attending telephonically while she was in Juneau, said, “I don’t understand how we look at these rates just from a commercial perspective. … It’s an entire system. Equity was part of the (2012) task force’s ultimate goal. … We cannot change these rates in a vacuum.”
Council members Heath Smith and Tom Stroozas both made the point that the 2012 task force set a principle that “a gallon of water and a gallon of waste should be an equal cost to all users,” as Stroozas put it.
The 2012 task force met for almost a year before recommending to the council a “cost causer, cost payer” rate structure, with uniform, per-gallon rates among all users, and additional rates added when a user area had a higher cost, such as sewer lift stations on the Spit. The council approved those recommendations.
Lord said she agreed with Smith and Stroozas on another point they made, that the city should periodically review rates to make sure they’re doing what the city thinks it should be doing. Every summer the city reviews rates.
“Neither of these resolutions do that,” Lord said “They call out a single user group from an overall system that is clearly displeased and says we address them separately.”
Former council member David Lewis spoke during public comments at the Committee of the Whole and advised the council to be cautious in making water and sewer rate changes.
“It’s not something you can do in a couple of months,” he said. “…Be careful playing around with water and sewer rates without a commission that is sitting down and willing to study it. It’s very complicated.”
Sensing a lack of council support, at the regular meeting, Erickson took the unusual step of asking that her resolutions be pulled. When the council voted on its agenda — normally a routine action — she moved and the council approved spiking her resolutions.
The motion to reconsider the caretaker motorhome ordinance had been made by Erickson, but when it came up for a vote, she wound up voting against it. Only council member Caroline Venuti said she thought it should be reconsidered, saying she had time to think about it and had some concerns.
The idea to pause the Greatland Street extension came about after business owners at the Pioneer Avenue end of the proposed new section raised concerns with how it would affect their businesses. The extension would come close to a former bank building owned by surgeon Dr. Todd Boling. Another business owner, Barb Scalzi of North Wind Home Collection, wrote a letter to the council opposing the extension.
The extension has been in the planning stages since the council passed an ordinance in June 2017 approving Option A, a straight line extension from the existing road from the Bypass to the Save-U-More grocery store, and appropriating $671,053 from the Homer Accelerated Roads/Trails program to pay for it. The ordinance had been first introduced in January 2017.
In public comments at the Committee of the Whole, Dr. Boling said he felt frustrated at how little the city had involved him in the project.
“I think it will affect our clinic the most because it’s literally outside our door,” he said. “I had no awareness of meetings coming up on this.”
Lord, elected to the council after the ordinance had been passed, said she had concerns about the project, especially that it wasn’t in the city transportation plan or its capital improvements list.
Smith said he thought the city had done its due diligence in considering the Greatland Street extension options.
“I apologize to those this may impact or don’t agree with. I continue to support something that came up eight months ago,” he said.
Erickson said she agreed with Smith.
“We have to be careful on something we already approved and are in the middle of a project — Oh, we don’t want to do that,” she said.
The vote on Monday would only have introduced the ordinance to pause construction. In the city’s process for considering ordinances, an ordinance is first introduced — often on the consent agenda — and then if introduced, debated further with a second reading and public hearing. Stroozas had pulled introduction of the ordinance from the consent agenda.
In a vote, the council split 3-3, with Venuti, Lord and Donna Aderhold voting yes, and Erickson, Stroozas and Smith voting no. Mayor Bryan Zak, also attending telephonically, broke the tie and voted no, defeating the ordinance.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.