Water rates rise

In other action, the council looks at plan to install methane gas system at sewer plant

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

New water rates were passed by the Homer City Council on Monday night, despite an appeal from the mayor and Councilman Bryan Zak that the struggling economy is no time to increase the cost of living.

In a 5-1 vote, the council again passed the three relevant ordinances. In an attempt to soften the blow, Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Novak advocated not placing the new rates on billing cycles until after the first of the new year.

The council spent the past five months taking apart the city’s water and sewer billing system to see what changes might improve it, then passed measures to allow for fee increases at the last meeting on May 26.

Homer Mayor Jim Hornaday vetoed the work the next day, making the ordinances on a new monthly services charge and fee increases null and void – for about two weeks.

The mayor made no bones about his concerns that it is not a good time to raise any costs of living in Homer.

“In my view, the citizens of Homer are not sufficiently aware of the proposed increases as we are now basically into the summer season and citizens are involved in numerous other activities,” he wrote in his veto letter. “Many who depend on the summer season for substantial revenue to enable them to get through the winter are not aware of the proposed water and sewer increases.”

He advocated for postponing the matter until fall.

Homer lost about 200 residents last year, which Hornaday blames on high property taxes, high electrical costs and high sales tax.

Another objection is that Kachemak City residents would see an increase, yet did not receive notice and so were unable to weigh in.

Speaking to the council, Land’s End Chief Executive Officer Mike Dyer said now is a critical time for businesses and the community. He asked the council to disqualify Novak from voting on the matter because, as a bed and breakfast owner, he is not on the city water system.

“Novak doesn’t pay water and sewer – he is not highly impacted by this move,” Dyer said. “His competitors probably do. I’m not sure how that wouldn’t be a conflict of interest.”

But Hornaday, upon questioning Novak about whether he pays comparable fees for his well and septic system maintenance, said he was satisfied that Novak’s situation was not a conflict of interest. On the council, David Lewis, Barbara Howard and Francie Roberts are all on the city system, as is Hornaday. Beth Wythe, Novak and Zak are not, but contend this isn’t a matter of choice. The city water and sewer lines do not extend to their homes.

The council stuck to their commitment to pass the water fee changes on the belief that it needs to build depreciation fund reserves. Depreciation funds pay for repair and replacement of equipment and infrastructure.

The new model offers:
• Same monthly customer charge for all users;
• Rate increases that are spread over a two-year period;
• Bills based on how much the user consumes;
• Use per gallon varied only by customer classification.

This model was adopted to be used for a two-year period. At its next meetings, the council will vote on when the new rates take effect.

The model breaks down the rate structure into three user groups for water (residential, commercial, and bulk users). All user groups will pay a flat monthly customer charge of $25 a month. The charge per gallon is .00442 or $4.42 per 1,000 gallons for residential users. For commercial users, the charge per gallon is .01140 or $11.40 per 1,000 gallons, and bulk water haulers will pay .01269 per gallon or $12.69 per 1,000 gallons. The amount each user group pays per gallon reflects the percentage of all water consumed in that user group.
For sewer charges, the model breaks down the rate structure into two user groups, residential and commercial. All user groups will pay a flat monthly customer charge of $20 a month. The charge per gallon is .00997 per gallon, or $9.97 per 1,000 gallons for residential users and .01264 per gallon or $12.64 per 1,000 gallons for commercial users.

Trapping methane gas
In other matters, the council met as a committee-of-the-whole to hear a presentation on a proposed project to turn sewer sludge into methane gas at the city’s water-sewage treatment plant. The methane gas would then be used as fuel to heat the plant and other city buildings such as the animal shelter and the Homer Public Works.

On the council’s agenda for its regular meeting was a resolution to partner with the Department of Energy, which would pay for 80 percent of the $3.5 million project. The city’s portion would be 20 percent, or about $700,000.
The project is estimated to take three years to reach operating status.

John Woodward, with Northern Building Science Group Inc., told the council that though the technology is experimental, it would bring a tremendous environmental and economic opportunity to Homer.  Woodward has worked with the Technology Matrix Corp., and its chief scientist Keith Schimel on other projects.

“Basically, what we do is try to bring technology to Alaska and try to make a difference. I work in rural Alaska, and I’m interested in helping rural Alaska meet the challenge of the cost of energy,” Woodward said.

The system would involve installing an anaerobic pump invented by Schimel that produces three times as much methane as other pumps. The funding proposal includes all the stages to connect the pump to an electrical grid, including buildings. Schimel, addressing the council telephonically from the East Coast, would not outline how his system works because it is “proprietary for good reason.”

“We routinely work above the current state of the art. We create new technologies,” he explained in correspondence to the council. “The design is based on the breakthrough in anaerobic processing of wet biomass using biogas plasticization. TAP is a mature state-of-the-art technology that has successfully gone through discovery, through prototype development and independent verification validation.”

Public Works director Carey Meyer said the project could produce enough methane to heat the equivalent of 30 homes, which is a payback system that could greatly benefit the city. The $700,000 city portion could possibly by obtained in grants. The DOE has invested in Schimel’s system, and if the application for the DOE $3.5 million in grants is approved, this ensures less risk for the project’s success, he said.

Methane gas causes pollution and contributes to greenhouse gases. This is a way to trap that as fuel, and do the environment a favor at the same time, Meyer said.

The anaerobic pump has not been tried in a cold climate, he noted.
The council postponed acting on a resolution until learning more about the proposal. It will be taken up again at the meeting June 22.

New park plan
The council passed a resolution to amend the Karen A. Hornaday Hillside Park Master Plan. Friends of Woodard Creek testified to the council that the plan has changed and expanded significantly from last year.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission developed the master plan to look at existing conditions and establish a “vision for a standard of quality.” Prepared by Kachemak Bay Conservation Society Project Manager Jack Wiles, the master plan is available on line at the city’s Web site at http://clerk.ci.homer.ak.us/khpmasterplan0609.pdf Implementing the plan requires community partnership and funding, though Friends of Woodard Creek have raised a significant amount, noted organizer Beth Cummings.

The plan is now available for public review.

Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

Mayor Hornaday proclaimed “Homer Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights” on Monday night, a document that spells out ways to get children involved in more outside, natural activities.

Carmen Field, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who leads numerous classroom field trips per year, gave a presentation to the council about how getting children out more helps them grow into healthy adults.

“We need to reconnect children with nature,” Field said. “It is good for children across the board. Now they are less connected – more likely to experience nature on a TV screen than outside.”

According to Field, children are already showing signs of being disconnected due to parents’ fears of “stranger danger” and the impacts of an indoor lifestyle that lead to obesity, onset of diabetes and impaired social and problem solving skills.
She said the solution is to create more opportunities for healthy activities outdoors.

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Posted by on Jun 11th, 2009 and filed under Headline News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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