‘Slow down, plan more,’ residents tell city council

• 14 percent of the 3,855 property owners in the SAD objected
By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Now that numbers are in for the Special Assessment District to fund parts of the natural gas line, the Homer City Council proceeded in accepting an ordinance to move forward.
But Ordinance 13-02 isn’t passed yet, and homeowners urged the council to slow down and do more work at Monday night’s city council meeting. The measure goes up for more public testimony and a vote on Feb. 11.
“I am concerned that the SAD is being rushed too fast,” Richard Gustafson told the council. “You can’t tell me how many voted yes; you can tell me how many voted no. From Nov. 1 to now, it seems like it’s on a fast track. Where is this energy going to come from? Are we going to drill in Kachemak Bay? What’s going to happen to our water resources? It’s time to step back and think this out.”
At issue is the “backward” way of determining support for the assessment. A written letter voicing objections counted while a person in favor of the SAD remained silent in this process.
Joyclyn Graham said if the logic in a non-response is taken for yes, then elections would be decided by the 80 percent who stay at home instead of turning out at the polls.
Of the 3,855 parcels in the district, the owners of 14 percent objected to setting up the special Gas Assessment District. That amounted to 540 objections. In order for the SAD to be cancelled, about 1,790 parcel owners would have needed to object. The deadline for objections has now passed, Jan. 25.
At the end of the objection period, the Homer City Clerk’s office tallied and characterized all the objections:
• 44 percent objected on the basis of costs to the home owner and the city.
• 16 percent said they felt insecure about future supplies of natural gas.
• 2 percent cited safety concerns.
• 6 percent objected because they live on a fixed income.
• 10 percent said they would prefer renewable energy like solar, wind and tidal.
• 2 percent want to see the SAD put to a public vote.
• 3 percent doubted gas would come to their area.
• 4 percent were condo owners who object to the assessment.
• 10 percent of the objecting property owners live out of state.

A big issue is the way the SAD impacts condo owners. Ken Castner, one-third owner of the Kachemak Title Building on Smoky Bay, protested at Monday’s meeting that he is being assessed five times for one building that isn’t a condo. It’s an office building. This amounts to a $30,000 assessment, he said.
Castner argued a “moral point” that the city isn’t being fair to charge that assessment.
“The city decided they were going to do this, all for one and one for all. It was going to be by lot – a big lot, a little lot, doesn’t matter,” Castner said. “Ten buildings, one building – it doesn’t matter until you get to my lot and say, ‘ah ha, that is a condominium – you have to charge that guy more.’”
Condo owners around town also have voiced strong objections to the way they are assessed by units, not lots. The 118 condo owners in town will each be charged $3,200, according to an interpretation by City Attorney Tom Klinkner. He stated that condos are taxed according to units, and that utility assessments follow that precedent.
Councilman Bryan Zak has been the most persistent in questioning the city attorney’s opinion.
“I think we are running up the wrong way. The cost to serve that lot isn’t any more than any other lot,” Zak said. “The attorney gave us advice, and I’m not so sure the attorney is correct on this.”
City Manager Walt Wrede told the council at the work session prior to the meeting that this is an established area of law and he is sure the attorney is right.
“You are required to assess them that way. When it comes to fairness issues, if a condo is located in a business building, that raises questions about fairness, too,” Wrede said. “The value of the land is supposed to be assessed as though it is private property. The law sees them as separate lots.”
Since there are 118 condos in town, Wrede said an exemption could impact the total cost of the project. “Tom (Klinkner) is pretty firm that the council doesn’t have that option.”
But condo owners argue there is nothing written in municipal law governing how condos are assessed for utilities. There is only the state ruling on how condos as properties is assessed for tax value, they argue.
Zak, who like Castner questioned the “moral fairness” of certain assessments, vowed to continue seeking a solution and another attorney opinion for the condo owners.
Many who objected wrote lengthy letters voicing concerns. The clerk’s office compiled more than 1,000 pages of letters and objection forms. Several asked what exactly is Enstar paying for?
Roark and Deborah Brown summarized it this way: “Enstar is given $12-16 million distribution system; Enstar is given an $8 million pipeline to Homer financed with public money; Enstar charges individual homeowners and businesses to hook up to the distribution line that we built and gave to them; Enstar adds thousands of customers to their rolls, along with $22 million plus in assets.”

Low income deferments:
The council looked at an ordinance to offer deferrals on the assessment for natural gas (the $3,200 cost divided over 10 years) to people eligible as low income. This would exempt them from paying the assessment until the property is sold or changes hands.
City Planner Rick Abboud estimates only 3-5 percent of the city’s property owners would qualify. The 2012 poverty guidelines for Alaska state that a family of one would have an income of no more than $13,970 per a year. A family of two would have no more than $18,920.
Larry Slone cautioned the council to carefully define what constitutes income. He also suggested the council consider tying the assessment to property values, so that a $1 million home would be paying more than one considerably more modest.
• Introduced: Ordinance 13-03 asks to create a bond to fund $12.7 million to finance the design and construction of the natural gas distribution system. The funding would come from a commercial lender or from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The loan would be repaid through the $3,200 per lot in property assessments over a 10-year period. Up for vote on Feb. 11

• Passed: a resolution to award the art work for four public restroom facilities. These are new facilities slated to be built next summer. Commissions went to Joshua Nordstrom, $4,200; Melisse Reichman $4,610; and Sheila Wyne of Anchorage $10,000.
Nordstrom is commissioned to create two Sandhill crane tile murals for the restroom at the WKFL Park. Reichman will be making a “Roaming the Land” tile mural and another work for the restroom to be built at Bartlett Street and Pioneer. Wyne is commissioned to do a Danny J tile mural for the End of the Road Park and another one for the Deep Water Dock restroom.
• The city is being asked to make emergency relief for three families whose homes were flooded. Homer experienced warm conditions and substantial rainfall the weekend of Jan. 11-13, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flood warning for the Kenai Peninsula. As a consequence, an unprecedented amount of storm water entered the sanitary sewer system and the sewage treatment plant. The result was that one main trunk line backed up for a period of time on several occasions. Three houses in low lying areas received damage when raw sewage backed up.
To compensate for the damage to the three homes, City Manager Wrede is asking for an emergency appropriation of $10,500 to give each home $3,500.
• Passed: A resolution asking the Alaska Legislature to re-appropriate $2 million the city received for Main Street. The council would instead like to use the money for a new harbor office building or to the New Skyline Drive Fire Station. Councilman Beau Burgess made this request to help property owners on Skyline bring down their insurance costs by building the fire station.

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Posted by on Jan 30th, 2013 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.

3 Responses for “‘Slow down, plan more,’ residents tell city council”

  1. Thanks for asking says:

    “Are we going to drill in Kachemak Bay? What’s going to happen to our water resources?”

    Buccaneer showed via map in public meetings that they intend to drill for natural gas behind everyone’s homes and property all the way to Greer.

    A recent story in The Nation highlighted the problems with natural gas fracking, from nose bleeds, respiratory and liver probems, to livestock dropping dead, and this is within a three mile radius.

    The article also pointed out this is usually done in very rural areas, where there are too few in the population to really fight back, with the help of local media that covers for corporations instead of informing and fighting for the local community that pays and provides for the newspaper and other local media funding.

    As far as water rights, Sean Parnell intends to give corporations whatever they want as included in his new proposals, and that includes our water resources…

    “Water Rights for Corporations, Not Alaskans: Governor Parnell’s proposal will give corporations unlimited access to significant quantities of water through “temporary” water use permits, and severely limit Alaskans’ right to challenge such permits.”

    They will be given permits to take our water, and permits to put their undisclosed fracking fluids in the groundwater instead (undisclosed, thanks to Cheney whose company happens to be involved in fracking and nuclear waste disposal)

    “Tonight’s guests have heard about residential drinking wells tainted by fracking fluids in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Colorado. They’ve read about lingering rashes, nosebleeds and respiratory trauma in oil-patch communities, which are mostly rural, undeveloped, and lacking in political influence and economic prospects. The trout nibblers in the winery sympathize with the suffering of those communities. But their main concern tonight is a more insidious matter: the potential for drilling and fracking operations to contaminate our food. The early evidence from heavily fracked regions, especially from ranchers, is not reassuring.

    Jacki Schilke and her sixty cattle live in the top left corner of North Dakota, a windswept, golden-hued landscape in the heart of the Bakken Shale. Schilke’s neighbors love her black Angus beef, but she’s no longer sharing or eating it—not since fracking began on thirty-two oil and gas wells within three miles of her 160-acre ranch and five of her cows dropped dead. Schilke herself is in poor health. A handsome 53-year-old with a faded blond ponytail and direct blue eyes, she often feels lightheaded when she ventures outside. She limps and has chronic pain in her lungs, as well as rashes that have lingered for a year. Once, a visit to the barn ended with respiratory distress and a trip to the emergency room. Schilke also has back pain linked with overworked kidneys, and on some mornings she urinates a stream of blood.”

  2. Um eww says:

    “Three houses in low lying areas received damage when raw sewage backed up.”

    Let me get this straight, $19,000 passed for art projects….but the City Council did not immediately vote to reimburse these homeowners the pittance requested for sewage backing up into their homes due to a failure of the sewage treatment plant?

  3. one more thing says:

    What?! We have two million we could use for main street, to do something for the community and folks who live in and/or come to town, and you instead want to give even more to the Harbor for a new office and for a fire station to reduce insurance costs? WTH!

    “asking the Alaska Legislature to re-appropriate $2 million the city received for Main Street. The council would instead like to use the money for a new harbor office building or to the New Skyline Drive Fire Station. Councilman Beau Burgess made this request to help property owners on Skyline bring down their insurance costs by building the fire station”

    I have so had it with this City Council, pitchforks and torches anyone?

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