• Business owners, residents question fairness of water/sewer rate restructuring
By Carey Restino
New water and sewer rates might be close for city residents, but they aren’t set in stone yet.
The council acted Monday night to put off the final decision on revamping the rates for another two weeks after several residents brought up criticisms to the new rate structure.
The concept behind the new rate structure was to equally divide the total cost of running a water and sewer system among all consumers with as little variation between users as possible.
As a result of the rate restructuring, most residential customers would see a reduction in rates, the council’s task force predicted. But business owners and residents who testified at last week’s meeting were not convinced the restructuring was completely fair. Land’s End Resort’s Jon Faulkner testified that his bill will go up some $8,000 as a result of the currently proposed modifications.
“Fairness is a very elusive term,” Faulkner said.
Our rate is already four times more than what similar communities pay out,” said Land’s End’s Josh Garvey, who was responsible for analyzing the impact to the Homer hotel and restaurant.
Garvey said Land’s End will have to consider the extra cost in its overall operations plan.
Others questioned why a multi-family residence is being charged fees under the assumption that it costs the city more to service a multi-family home. While the fee is expected to be reduced significantly with the new fee schedule, it still is questionable, resident Justin Arnold testified.
Another resident questioned why harbor users’ water use isn’t metered. The harbor users all share the cost of water use in the facility, with a few users allegedly using the bulk of that water.
Mike Dye testified that business people who he talked to who understood the new structure were not in support of the action. He questioned why the issue was not analyzed by someone trained creating such a fee structure.
“A lot of time and energy was put into this process, but this is going to be a mistake,” Dye said, adding that while the task force that created the new structure invested heavily in the new rate structure, it needed answers to many questions before moving forward.
The council will take up the water and sewer rate structure again at its next meeting.
The council also put off a decision of how to proceed with potential leases on a parcel of land just beyond the Nick Dugiak Fishing Lagoon, the land on which Pier One Theatre currently sits. A resolution proposing a subdivision of the land in the effort to open some of it up to nonprofit use as well as retain some for marine industrial use was voted down and a substitute ordinance striking the word nonprofit and opening up a request for proposals from all parties interested in leasing the land was also voted down.
Barb Peterson, Homer resident and Pier One Theater organizer asked the council if it would be holding more public hearings on the issue as the discussion regarding the parcel had mainly occurred in the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
Homer Mayor Beth Wythe said that there would be, and explained that the intent was to allow the council to clearly see who had an interest in the property.
“We hear a lot about who might be interested in the property, but until we know who’s really interested in it, we don’t have the full picture,” Wythe said. “So we are going to ask the question.”
The council asked city staff to bring back an ordinance to the council that represents the council’s intent.
In other news:
• Council heard from organizers of an effort to improve the walkability and safety of Old Town. The neighborhood, through the Bunnell Street Arts Center, has received a grant for $150,000 from ArtPlace, a collaboration of private foundations intent on “creative placemaking.”
Chief among the desires of the collaboration of residents and business owner is improving the area’s walkability. Since Old Town, which includes Main Street and Bunnell Avenue as well as neighboring areas, is the access to Bishop’s Beach, traffic through the area has been dangerous at times, organizers say.
The sometimes fast-moving traffic, combined with a lot of foot traffic and little space for pedestrians on the sides of the road are a dangerous combination, some say. They propose improvements to roadways to allow pedestrians more space to walk as well as crosswalks, removable speed bumps and signage.
Beyond the pedestrian improvements, the Old Town residents plan to create gardens, murals and street painting as well as install benches and permanent public art in the area.
One of the organizers of the Old Town task force Briana Allen, asked the city for an investment into the project, saying that each dollar leverages four grant-funded dollars.
Kari Thurman, one of the owners of Two Sisters, said after running a business in the neighborhood and dealing with the dangerous traffic issues, she was completely in support of the effort.
“Having raised three kids here and watching how the traffic works, it would be a huge relief for everyone to see some results,” Thurman said.
• Discussed the cost of retrofitting the city of Homer buildings to switch over to natural gas use. While most of the buildings were approved for funding to accommodate the switch, several buildings, including the Homer Fire Department, were higher than the rest, and action on those was delayed.
The estimated cost of retrofitting the fire department was upwards of $90,000.
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