• City council gets on with gasline testimony, much of it emotional property owners speaking of hardship
By Naomi Klouda
The tax holiday during winter months on non-prepared foods continues on after the Homer City Council voted down any changes in a 3-2 vote at Monday night’s meeting.
Council member Bryan Zak, who proposed the measure to add what he called a much-needed $700,000 to feed into the city’s general revenue fund, voted ‘yes.’ Council member Francie Roberts also voted in favor of bringing the tax back after the three years since it was first decided by voters at the ballot. She felt it fair to give city workers a “long overdue” 2 percent cost of living increase.
Zak wanted the additional sales tax in order to provide city services for “the greater good of the whole.”
“It hurts me when I have to – I just want folks to know we are listening to you, whether it’s lowering the cost of heating or (other matters,)” Zak said. “But when it comes to the seasonal sales tax – Homer is the only one not collecting the seasonal sales tax. We need to find the money in the future – and might have to (gain it) in property taxes.”
Councilman James Dolma, who called for a reconsideration vote, said he intended to vote ‘no’ on the question of reimposing the full 7.5 percent sales tax year-round. But he brought it back to the table because he wanted to point out a more limited measure proposed by Councilman David Lewis had to be voted down in order to get to Zak’s bill.
“I brought it back for reconsideration because I wanted everyone to vote clean, without relying on something else,” Dolma said.
Also voting ‘no’ was Councilmember Beau Burgess, who initially voted yes at the last meeting in December. He changed his mind, he said, because of the economic timing. David Lewis also voted ‘no,’ saying he did so even though a minority of voters decided the matter two times at the ballot box. Council member Barbara Howard was absent.
A big issue was that city administrators were held up from printing a final version of the 2013 general fund budget. A total of just over $1 million in additional revenue would have meant adjusting for more funds, as well as granting city workers a 2 percent cost of living increase. An additional $19,000 in Homer Chamber of Commerce funding was tied up in the sales tax ordinance.
• Gasline planning flaws
With nine days left for property owners to voice objections about natural gasline infrastructure funding planned out in the Homer Special Assessment District, many showed up to point out problems in the plan.
Resident Meg Mitchell said she likes the plan to gain cheaper energy, but according to her research, she would need a small loan in order to switch out her appliances. “Unless you start offering a funding source, a lot of people are going to have struggles. I’m Interested, but I can’t afford it.
Resident Don Lane worried that if the distribution line isn’t on time and within budget, the costs get passed on to consumers. “If (construction) goes into 2015, I want to ensure those on the end getting gas won’t get drug into those increased costs… I hope you will find a way to increase everyone’s comfort level.”
Ted Schmidt expressed similar concerns that the price quoted may be much larger when the actual day of flowing gas arrives. Several also mentioned that costs for natural gas may rise with scarcity as Southcentral anticipates a natural gas shortage as early as 2014.
David Duke, president of the Baywatch Condo Association, said the benefits to come from cheaper heating fuel are understood and accepted. However, the way they are assessed is unfair.
Each parcel is to be assessed about $3,200 over a 10-year period. But in a condominium complex,each owner will be assessed as though they were occupying separate buildings on 12 separate lots. The result is that $39,400 would be owed.
Duke proposed doing the assessments according to the size of the lot.
Condo-owner Jim Lavrakas said he hoped the council would see that, like any law, the one governing condo assessments is open to interpretation. “The way that this assessment is being levied against condominium owners is discriminatory because it singles out a single class of homeowner and it is basically unfair,” he said.
In a condo project, the owners own land and buildings jointly, Mary Ann Griffith said, not separately as in a typical utility assessment. Margarida Kondak noted that a 17-unit apartment building would only be assessed once at the $3,200 cost. A 17-unit condominium project, by comparison, would pay $54,400.
Nell Gustafson read a statement about voting ‘no,’ during this chance for property owners to speak out, on a number of matters related to hooking up.
“I vote no four times for every piece of property we own. I vote no because it is very expensive and there is no way we an recoup those costs,” Gustafson said. “I vote no because in 2 ½ years there will be a shortage of natural gas.”
Instead, she favors putting investment toward wind or tidal power. “I feel the City of Homer isn’t presenting the whole picture,” she said. “You are sugar coating a very big pill and ramming it down our throats.”
Rather than basing the SAD approval on an objection requirement, Michael Kennedy said the city should back up and slow down.
“(We would be) paying for an area wide assessment. It’s undemocratic. Everyone wake up; you are already assessed,” Kennedy said. “It’s a pain in the butt to vote ‘no’ on this. In a (regular) LID you have to vote yourself in twice. With this, you can’t even vote yourself out.”
Other utilities like Homer Electric and phone companies install a line at their own expense. Then they charge customers for hooking into the line.
“In that system, we have a choice and in this we have no choice. In this natural gas crack pipe, were going to look up 20 years from now and wonder why we agreed to suck on it,” Kennedy said.
Mayor Beth Wythe handed over her gavel to Mayor Pro Tem Francie Roberts and took to the testimony table.
She objected to obligating the citizens to pay $12 million back to Enstar after they have already been granted $10.4 million in state funding. “We are obligating them, the citizens, to help Enstar fund its project. If this were a financially viable project to come to Homer, if they had an interest in helping Homer, they would not have to come to Homer for help paying for it,” she said.
The way the idea of gaining natural gas came about was through a legislative interest. “It came up on us from someone not even on the council. We did not have this on the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) list,” Wythe said. “That to me is not representing the citizens of Homer. That is representing a political interest. Granted it may be great on down the road for us to have natural gas.”
The audience in the council chambers clapped for Wythe, a round of applause that lasted several moments.
Property owners have until 5 p.m. Jan. 25 to voice objections to the SAD. Forms or letters are due at the City Clerk’s office by that time.
Counted objections include 288 parcels. It would take 1,928 to object before the SAD is to be set aside. The written comments on the gasline SAD are contained in this week’s City Council Packet, available on line. The clerks office will break down objections by category for the next council packet.
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