• Not everyone happy with the process, but town should see significant energy savings in not to distant future
By Naomi Klouda
Condo owners in town turned out again at the Homer City Council meeting Monday night to urge what they’re calling a fair deal when they are assessed for natural gas, but they walked away without a solution.
Low income residents get a break on the cost of their natural gas distribution line, after actions by the Homer City Council on Monday night. And the council unanimously voted in favor of creating the Special Assessment District. This starts the mapping of property owners who should start gaining the cheaper, clean natural gas by the end of the summer.
The largest group of unhappy council attenders were the condo owners. The council was advised by City Attorney Tom Klinkner that according to state law, condos are designated separate unit property on par with homes. This means they will each pay as much as a homeowner, even though apartment buildings, similarly constructed in many cases, would pay just one assessment.
“This is consistent with the scheme of assessing property,” Klinkner said.
While the bulk of testimony centered on the hit condo owners will take, the concept of helping out low income homeowners sailed through without a lot of conversation. Councilman David Lewis wanted to amend the measure to 138 percent of federal poverty standards but Councilman Beau Burgess thought 125 percent would be a better bar. “I don’t want the tax payers to subsidize this,” he said. Costs distributed over more people mean lower costs for all. The deferral would delay the $3,200 assessment payment for 10 years, or if the property is sold it would become due.
A family of three, for example could make $23,870 at 100 percent. They would be able to make 25 percent more than that under the council amendments. City Planner Rick Abboud estimated up to 200 parcels would be eligible for the deferral.
Council members James Dolma and Bryan Zak voted against granting the low income deferral.
The council continues to hear lengthy complaints about plans for getting natural gas to Homer homes. Though only 15 percent of all property owners objected in the public testimony period, those who show up at the council meeting have specific requests about slowing the process down.
Condo owner David Duke has sought legal advice about how such units are assessed by other cities in Alaska.
“I’m asking you to reconsider based on the law,” Duke said. “I’ve been talking with staff and people who have specific knowledge. I can’t find one staff person or expert who is levying special assessment the way the City of Homer is doing. They were surprised to learn a lot could be assessed several times. Places like Anchorage and Juneau are assessing differently.”
Ken Castner called the designation on condos “arbitrary and discriminatory.”
“I’m not real happy with my city government right now. We owe it to ourselves to have a conversation,” Castner said.
Burgess said the objective is to come up with a manner that avoids passing on costs to others. Some condos in town are expensive properties, like those at Land’s End. Others on Mountain View and other places also are view properties, and mixed in are the smaller units like those on Bunnell Street.
The city can’t go down a path of granting exceptions. How to make a rule that addresses everyone is what the council is trying to accomplish, Burgess said.
Yet another area of concern expressed over the gas line is from the elderly who feel they can’t pay the assessment and will not in the future benefit from natural gas.
Even councilmen Lewis and Burgess acknowledged they won’t immediately benefit from natural gas. Lewis owns two lots; Burgess owns three. “Being on the council, I feel I need to look at what is best for the town as a whole,” Lewis said.
Schools, the hospital and government buildings will immediately see the benefit of a lower cost heat. This cuts down on government budgets.
Philosophically, others object to more fossil fuel solutions. Jessica Tenhoff told the council this isn’t a bridge, “it’s a detour.”
“I think you are being pushed and I think you are rushing.”
Ray Kranich pointed out Enstar is a foreign corporation that becomes richer in assets with ownership of the Homer Area Natural Gasline.
Thomas MacDonough told the council he is in favor of natural gas.
“There will be a lot of benefits. It’s hard to make everyone happy. However, our city manager said either you pay for the gas up front or you pay down the road when you get gas,” he said. “It’s not a good investment but I am going to have to pay anyway.”
One woman challenged the council to answer what would happen if a lot of people simply refuse to pay the assessment? The attorney responded that municipalities can use property liens to pay for unmet taxes and assessments.
Alternative energy sources are being pursued, with an appropriation from the City of Homer for the tidal incubation project at the Homer dock. But it will take 7.1 megawatts of energy to fuel Homer, Burgess said. He invites people with ideas and means for developing alternative energies large enough for a town to come see him.
“You have an asset in me. If you want to kick out fossil fuel, I will work for you. But it comes down to numbers and what’s economically feasible. We need to be able to make it happen,” he said.
Councilman Dolma pointed out a lot of people are paying beyond their means for fuel, such as one person he knows paying $600 a month for propane. Natural gas will provide a big savings for many people, he said.
In other business:
•Approved: a resolution allowing the Department of Public Works to purchase a new plow-sand truck for $37,481 from Kendall Ford of Wasilla. Last year’s heavy snows proved hard on equipment, but the purchase was scheduled for replacement, Director Carey Meyer said. Also on approval, Public Works needed to purchase a new snow sander/calcium spreader for $23,541 from Truckwell of Anchorage. Homer has three sanders and three plows to use on area roads.
• The council looked at a proposal from the Kachemak Wooden Boat Society to open a large shop space for boatbuilding, repair and restoration project. The groups, Wooden Boat Society, the Water Trails and the Homer Yacht Club want the city to donate a lease of 10,000 square feet of land from the city for the building.
Wooden Boat Society president Dave Seaman gave a presentation to the council detailing the benefits. Other towns that have built such facilities provide an anchor for community learning and a draw for tourists.
• The City of Homer hired Dan Nelson as the project manager for Public Works. The city has a backlog of trails, water-sewer and construction designs to move forward. A project manager position was sought several years ago, but in budget cuts was not filled. The council agreed to fund the new position through project design funds.
• Homer is now a pilot community for the national Green Dot Program, a system for training people to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault. Haven House Director Jessica Lawmaster and Zoe Story, employed in the PHAT program through Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, gave a council presentation.
They are asking the city to kick in $3,500 in a matching grant to sign on for the program.
“This is a bystanders intervention program that targets our entire community to change from being a passive bystander. It equips them with skills for intervening in an unsafe situation,” Lawmaster said. The idea is to lower incidences of violence and sexual assault by stopping an event from occurring. This is done by people trained to react with the Three D’s – directly intervene or delegate someone to help, such as calling the police or to distract.
Story, 17, said some of the concepts are already at work in Homer through the peer group teachers, PHAT. “Homer is a small and kind community, but that doesn’t mean our youth are not faced with tough and possibly life threatening situations,” she said. Story would be one of those trained through Green Dot.
Since these are non-traditional responders – everyday people in the community – Lawmaster said store employees could also be part of the solution.
The council passed a resolution to donate the $3,500.
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