Bt Chris Story
The Homer City council and members of the Water Rate Task Force are sincere. I firmly believe that.
The question is, can one be both sincere and wrong? Yes, you can be sincerely wrong.
When a “loophole” was found that allowed the City to collect….
That is not to say that with the most recent debate over water and sewer rates the council and the task force are entirely wrong. There are no doubt components of the recommendations made by the task force and adopted by the council that are good, warranted and represent adequate stewardship of public interest.
What is lost, however, is the element of trust. You see, it was a couple years ago that multifamily property owners were thrown into a commercial status; when a loophole was found that allowed for the City to collect a fee per apartment unit on a monthly basis and those rates were residential again. One reason proffered as justification was that it’s only fair that apartment renters pay the same fee as a tenant of a single family home; ignoring the fact that a home has one water meter, one bill and one customer charge fee.
Apartments have one meter, one bill and historically one customer charge fee. In fact, the City will not allow more than one meter, hence there can only be one customer of the city per building.
The extra fees have serious impact on the bottom line for apartment owners, property values and ultimately tenants whose rent will rise to accommodate the loophole.
Over the course of a year that’s $4,860 over collected due to the “loophole.” Not to mention the fact that rents have begun to rise…
After approximately a year of task force meetings, and some last minute massaging by the council, it appears that for now, some or all of the additional user fees will be reduced to somewhere around five dollars per unit.
This begs the question; who’s writing the refund check for the overage collected this past year? It’s serious money. For example, a 10-unit building went from paying $45 per month to paying $450 per month just for the customer charge. Over the course of a year that’s $4,860 over collected due to the “loophole.” Not to mention the fact that rents have begun to rise as leases renew to accommodate for the new fees incurred by the property owner foisted on them by the administrations claim that they can be collected.
Do the landlords of Homer trust that the City will not once more raise the customer charge to $45 or more? Doubtful. When trust is lost it’s hard to find.
Councilmen Lewis took great exception to the Homer Voice for Business claim that Soldotna’s water bill was somewhere around $46 per month.
He didn’t dispute the facts as found in the CH2MHill rate study, just that the business group didn’t mention that also included sewer.
When the public sees such diminutive points of contention being debated, all the while ignoring the fact that Homer residents are paying upwards of three times the rate for water and sewer of their neighbors in Soldotna – trust is lost.
Councilmen Burgess has asserted that for an outside independent auditing firm to arrive at any differing conclusions than that of the task force, they would have to have been offered a bribe by a large company. I wonder what the folks at CH2MHILL would have to say about that.
How do you find trust when it’s been lost?
Simple. You earn it!
Chris Story is a lifelong Alaskan, and broker and owner of Story Real Estate. He is also host of “Alaska Matters Radio,” heard Tuesdays from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on KGTL.
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