Council votes down new rules for extending water service outside the city

After numerous public hearings, hours of council discussion, consultation with the city attorney and several suggested substitutes, an ordinance to codify how the City of Homer extends water service outside city boundaries failed in a 3-2 vote at Monday’s Homer City Council meeting.

Council member Shelly Erickson had an excused absence from Monday’s meeting. Under council rules, four votes are needed for a measure to pass. Council members Donna Aderhold, Rachel Lord and Caroline Venuti voted for the ordinance and Heath Smith and Tom Stroozas voted against it.

In an ordinance passed in March, the council voted to allow East End Partners LLC, a Kachemak City apartment complex, to pay a $100,000 fee and connect to an East End Road city main water line that runs at the edge of city limits. At an April 22 meeting, council member Donna Aderhold introduced Ordinance 19-19 in an attempt to set rules on how the city would regulate allowing extraterritorial lots to hook up to city water in the future, because no policy allowing that currently exists.

Another 15 Kachemak City lots in addition to the one owned by East End Partners also run along that main water line and could potentially connect to it. Aderhold’s ordinance would have changed city code so that it would require an ordinance from the city council to provide water outside city limits, as well as a resolution that adopted extraterritorial public utility agreements.

“It is what it is,” Aderhold said after the end of Monday’s meeting about the ordinance not passing.

The failure of the ordinance means the city’s current policy prohibiting non-city lots from connecting to city water unless they are annexed by the city will remain in place. However, in a 4-3 vote with Mayor Ken Castner breaking a tie, the council went against that policy in its vote last March. Castner had run on a platform of not breaking tie votes, but explained that because he had sponsored the ordinance to allow East End Partners to hook up to city water, that meant he would vote yes in a tie vote. In making the agreement with East End Partners, Castner called it a “one off” deal.

After Aderhold introduced Ordinance 19-19, the council held a worksession on it in May and a public hearing and second reading at its June 10 meeting. It then adopted a substitute version, Ordinance 19-19(s), and referred it to the Economic Development Advisory Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Port and Harbor Advisory Commission. The ordinance was again postponed at the council’s Aug. 26 meeting. Aderhold then asked the city attorney to review it, and a third version, Ordinance 19-19(S-2)(A), was before the council Monday night.

In speaking for the latest revision, Aderhold said she added a recommendation from the Planning Commission saying that a proposed connection complies with the City Comprehensive Plan, a document that sets a planning vision for the city. That idea got some push back from Smith.

“My whole objection to that is it had an appearance of zoning being applied to an extraterritorial property,” he said. “If we’re going to go in that circle, it seems like there’s an impasse with what we have here. I’m not going to continue to dance around that.”

Lord disagreed and said that clause wasn’t about zoning.

“It’s what we’re working on when we make any planning decision,” she said.

Lord said she didn’t want to add another layer of political strife or make the issue overly political.

“Those boundaries exist for some reason,” she said. “We operate within that boundary with all the goals and policies and all that. … I don’t have a problem with that. I’m perplexed there’s a problem with that at the table.”

Before voting on whether to accept the most recent version of the ordinance, Aderhold made a motion to send it back to the planning commission for more consideration. She said the commission had some outstanding questions on it.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no rush on this,” she said.

The vote to send it back to the commission was 3-2, so it failed because every measure needs four votes to pass.

Aderhold then made a motion to postpone the vote and hold another public hearing. She also had concerns that because there were substantive changes to the new version that under city rules another public hearing would be required.

“This has been on the table for a long while,” Castner said. “I’m not sure how substantive the changes have been.”

Aderhold asked for an opinion from Deputy Clerk Renée Krause, and Krause said that according to Robert’s Rule of Order, she did not think the changes were substantive enough to require another public hearing, although she said the council could do that in the interest of clarity and transparency.

The vote to postpone also failed 3-2, with Aderhold, Lord and Venuti voting yes and Smith and Stroozas voting no. A motion to substitute a newer version of the ordinance also failed.

That put the first substitute back on the table. Smith then made an amendment to add the lines “with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA)” to after the phrase “until the City amends its certificate of convenience.”

Aderhold said the phrase “if required by state law” in that section covered any reference to the RCA. Lord said she didn’t think the city had to be more prescriptive in its code than the state required.

Smith said he added the reference to the RCA because in conversations with RCA officials he thought any extension outside the city’s service area should have to go to them.

His amendment failed with Smith and Stroozas voting “yes” and Aderhold, Lord and Venuti voting “no.”

Back to the main motion on whether or not to pass the ordinance, the voting pattern continued, with Aderhold, Lord and Venuit voting “yes” and Smith and Stroozas voting “no.”

In other council action, the council voted unanimously to find that after interviewing four law firms, it found Jermain, Dunnagan & Owens of Anchorage to be the best suited to be provide legal services. It will vote on a contract at its next meeting on Sept. 23.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com

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