By Naomi Klouda
The Homer Landfill may soon be operated by a private contractor under plans by the Kenai Peninsula Borough, a move that causes concerns about the profit motive verses public service obligations.
At Homer City Council’s Monday night meeting, Borough Assemblyman Mako Haggerty briefed the council, then later came back to speak on his own behalf that he foresees problems ahead.
“I think it’s a bad idea to privatize the dump. I did what I could to prevent it from happening,” Haggerty said. “I’m not happy with contracting that out to private contractors.”
A different management scheme likely would be pursued by DNL Construction, the lowest qualified bidder. That company is owned by Larry Smith of Soldotna, who has other borough contracts for roads. The move would save the borough 30 percent on its Homer solid waste budget, or $250,000 a year, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre has said.
“The contract has built-in flexibility on waste stream management. Composting would still go on. It doesn’t preclude anything expressed as a desire from the Homer community,” Navarre said. “It’s just that from the standpoint of the borough’s best interest, it hinges on costs.”
The borough pays more to dispose garbage for its residents than any other service provided, Navarre points out.
Haggerty opposes privatizing functions of government that belong in the public sector.
“There are three things required of a second class borough – schools, solid waste and roads,” Haggerty said after the council meeting. “We are, I believe, passing off our responsibilities to the private sector and when we do that we lose control over that part of our governmental obligations.”
The proof shows up in track records showing failed systems, he said. The privatization of landfills is occurring more often across the country. But the problem comes when solid waste is managed for the benefit of residents vs profits for shareholders or corporations.
“It sounds philosophical, but at end of day you have a different system from what it is designed for,” Haggerty said.
Another problem enters the equation when the four union employees currently running the bailing facility are transferred out of Homer to other areas of the borough for their jobs. Haggerty calls this a union-busting action.
Environmental concerns become part of it. Since closing the landfill, Homer’s trash collection system is now a transfer station that trucks trash down the highway to the Central Peninsula Landfill. “If they are paid by the tonnage, then wouldn’t it motivate them to increase the waste stream?” Haggerty said.
This matter will not be put before the assembly or the City of Homer. It is a borough administrative decision. But the council and members of the public may weigh in with Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s office.
Before a decision is made, Navarre is waiting to hear back on the union analysis of the plan. This is a process of evaluation the borough follows prior to transferring union employees.
All the other Peninsula transfer facilities are likewise on private contract, Navarre notes.
“We have met our responsibilities in analyzing an area of the budget that has the biggest cost to the borough and whether or not we’ll get the service expected under the contract. We’re going to do what we think is in the best interest of the borough. It’s not finalized yet,” he said.
State Parks cuts: Gov. Sean Parnell has requested an across-the-state cut to Alaska state parks, including Kachemak Bay State Park. The Homer City Council passed a resolution urging the state to not make cuts to an already underfunded state park. The resolution highlights that in 1985, the park was assigned two rangers for its 400,000 acres. Today, there is one ranger to oversee the entire park system of the lower Kenai Peninsula.
According to numbers kept by the Kachemak Bay State Parks Citizen Advisory Board, the park has evolved into one of Alaska’s most visited recreational areas, attracting over 50,000 hikers, kayakers, hunters, fishermen, backpackers and campers. Despite improvements creating 16 trailheads and more than 90 miles of hiking trails, 18 campsites and multiple bridges, funding has slowly eroded through the years.
• Condo owners out of luck, for now: Homer City Manager Walt Wrede sought two legal opinions on the matter of how condos are assessed for natural gas distribution. Under city plans for the Homer Area Natural Gasline Assessment District, each condo owner pays a separate fee just as each property owner pays a separate assessment for each lot. Legal questions were raised by several condo owners, including Ken Castner and KPT Condo Association.
City Attorney Tom Klinkner had issued his legal opinion that state law is firm on how condos are to be assessed as a single unit, like a lot. Wrede asked two other attorneys if they agree or not.
Both Groh Eggers and James McCollum agreed that the statute is clear: “each unit shall be separately taxed and assessed…”
“Sally Kucko of Groh Eggers and McCollum were given Castner’s packet of information laying out arguments for why it shouldn’t be done,” Wrede told the council. “She (Kucko) goes through arguments one by one. It’s fair to say Sally concluded Klinkner was right … though there are cracks and places you could argue.”
A Wisconsin case brought forth the legal ruling that the condo owner would have to show “fraud or conduct so arbitrary as to be the equivalent of fraud, or so manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable as to be palpably unjust and oppressive.”
“That’s a hard bar to overcome,” Wrede said.
City Attorney Holly Wells said at a later stage in the process of getting the SAD set up, there will be time to again visit the mechanism for how each property pays into the gas distribution system. “That gives another opportunity to look at the reality then,” she said.
To read the legal opinions, go here
• Enstar contract now signed: The council passed Resolution 13-017 which deals with the contract between the city of Homer and Enstar. This approves the contract signing to move forward with construction of the 20-mile line to get natural gas to Homer.
• Woofers: The Economic Advisory Commissioner Lindanne Sarno visited to the council to talk about the commission’s involvement with Woofers, or World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms. In exchange for the cost of airfare to Alaska and gear, these agricultural volunteers are flocking to Homer to offer labor in return for food and shelter. To ensure qualified applicants, a screening process evaluates them.
• Postponed: Ordinance 13-06 which designates 5 percent of the earnings from the $1.5 million Permanent Fund for nonprofit funding through the Homer Foundation. The action was postponed to clarify where the proportion of the interest earnings is to come from.
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