The City of Homer will indeed allow a lot in Kachemak City to hook up to Homer water, something prohibited by city policy. An effort to rescind the ordinance that would allow a developer to do this failed at the Homer City Council’s meeting on Monday.
Council member Donna Aderhold had made a motion to rescind an ordinance (Ordinance 19-09(S)) that allows Homer to accept a $100,000 service fee from East End Partners LLC, a company building a low income housing project in Kachemak City near Homer city limits, in return for East End Partners getting city water. The motion failed in a 3-3 vote, with Aderhold, Caroline Venuti and Rachel Lord voting in favor of rescinding the ordinance, and Shelly Erickson, Tom Stroozas and Heath Smith voting not to rescind. An ordinance needs four “yes” votes to pass.
Unlike the last city council meeting, where he cast a tie-breaking vote, Mayor Ken Castner did not vote to break this tie. He had promised during his campaign for mayor that he would foster consensus on the council by not voting in tie situations. The mayor can only cast a vote in the event of a tie.
Aderhold’s wish to rescind the water extension ordinance rested on several issues she had with the ordinance and the process, chief among them the fact that Castner had gotten a letter from the Kachemak City Council on March 19. Castner made that letter public to the council on March 28, two days after the original vote on the ordinance. At that same time, he also made public a letter he had sent back to Kachemak City Mayor Bill Overway asking him to retract the letter and send one that specifically addressed the ordinance Homer was set to vote on.
“In my opinion, their (Kachemak City’s) letter does apply to the property in the ordinance,” Aderhold said. “Our mayor knowingly withheld the letter at our last meeting, and during discussion of the ordinance, his statements implied that no letter existed. Even if the mayor did not think the letter from Kachemak City pertained to the ordinance under consideration, this was not his determination to make. The letter was addressed to the city of Homer.”
In an emergency April 1 meeting, the Kachemak City Council voted to not object to the ordinance granting Homer water to the single Kachemak City lot. They also started work on a resolution that will set out a framework for negotiating with the City of Homer when it comes to Homer water for the remaining 15 lots that are along the Homer water main on Kachemak Drive.
Aderhold said the Homer council didn’t have all the information it needed when it originally voted on March 26, and characterized Castner’s response letter to Kachemak City as coercion to submit a letter of nonobjection of the ordinance to the city of Homer.
“I basically support the project. I support the need for affordable housing and the project as proposed,” Aderhold said. “I want the project to succeed. However, I am not willing to run roughshod over Kachemak City, Kachemak City code, state statute and Homer policy to get there.”
She also pointed out that Homer city code requires an ordinance passed by Kachemak City council before Homer can be allowed to extend utility services in their jurisdiction. Council member Smith countered later in the meeting that an ordinance from Kachemak City to that effect can still happen.
“The decision made on this ordinance at our last meeting is the equivalent of spot zoning, with the added layer of spot zoning in someone else’s jurisdiction,” Aderhold said.
Several members of the public urged the council to slow down their process for bringing Homer water to Kachemak City lots by rescinding the ordinance and starting over.
“I favor getting water to Kachemak City,” said Pete Gibson during his public comments. “I don’t favor doing it with a mayoral negotiation.”
During council discussion, Stroozas again reiterated what a good deal allowing the low income housing lot to hook up to Homer water will be for the city. The $100,000 service fee will go into the Homer Accelerated Water and Sewer Program, which will help fund future water system improvements.
Several people who gave public comment at the meeting also questioned the $100,000 service fee itself, asking whether it was East End Partners who suggested it, or Castner. Castner is the original sponsor of the ordinance. During council discussion, Smith asserted that it was East End Partners who came up with or suggested the $100,000 service fee.
Lord talked about the precedent this kind of one-off deal with an individual company sets, asking what will happen in the future when another Kachemak City lot owner comes to the city wanting to hook up to Homer water. Mike Arno, a Homer resident who owns a business in Kachemak City that is along the water main, said in his public comments that he will be first in line with an application to the city to get water for his business.
Arno said he has heartburn over this issue because, as a business owner, he was told the only way he would be allowed to hook his business up to Homer water would be to allow the city to annex the property.
“Then, come to find out that that wasn’t the truth,” he said. “Alls I would have had to do was have a 100,000 extra dollars and I could have gotten water.”
Other council members spoke to the trust that needs to exist between a council and the mayor in order for good work to get done. Some felt like that trust had been violated when Castner did not share the letter from Kachemak City before they voted on the water extension ordinance.
Smith said he doesn’t think the original votes on the ordinance would have been at all changed had the council had access to the letter beforehand.
“I don’t agree with the mayor not having provided the letter,” he said. “I don’t want any confusion there. That should have been out, it should have been in the open. But at the end of the day it changes … nothing in the way that people voted here.”
Castner said at the meeting that he intentionally withheld the letter.
“When Kachemak City didn’t give me the letter that I was expecting, the significance of the letter wasn’t what they sent me, but it was what wasn’t included in the letter. They did not include the line that I was looking for, which was the nonobjection line, because that’s what we had told you (the council) was coming.”
“… The city manager asked me if I wanted to put it in the packet, and I said no, it would just muddy the conversation and … the negotiating stance that they took really had nothing to do with the matter that was at hand,” he continued.
Castner apologized to the council and said he should be held accountable. He echoed Smith’s statements that the letter wouldn’t have changed things at the March 26 meeting.
In his closing comments, Castner emphasized the importance of working well together because the council has a lot of important work to accomplish.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.