By Hannah Heimbuch
The Homer City Council hosted their nearest neighbor during a work-session discussion Monday evening, exploring a possible new wastewater agreement between Homer and Kachemak City.
The East End Road city has been hooked into Homer’s wastewater collection infrastructure since 1988, but after almost a quarter century and a recent rise in rates, the two cities are reevaluating the terms under which that relationship exists.
“It was a partnership,” said Homer City Manager Walt Wrede. “At the time the city was looking to build the new sewer treatment plant, the plant that we have now, Kachemak City was able to secure money to help us build that.”
Those funds came to about $1.2 million for the treatment facility and several hundred thousand for collections infrastructure, said Kachemak City Mayor Phil Morris.
“From our point of view we were kind of partners in this deal,” Morris said. “As things went on we got lazy, and I think both of us got a little sloppy with how we were interacting with each other.”
Morris referred to Kachemak City’s adaptation to Homer’s gradual rate changes, which made a significant jump recently.
“All of a sudden the rate was bering based on gallon flows,” Morris said. “Which is fine as long as it’s perceived to be equitable.”
Because none of the dwellings in Kachemak City have wastewater output meters, the charge per household is based on an average.
“There was an estimate made that each household would dump 3200 gallons into the system (per month,)” Morris said. “This was never measured, it was just a number the engineers came up with as some sort of residential average.”
This average, coupled with the current wastewater rates, Morris said, has put significant pressure on their resident sewer bills.
“Our costs in Kachemak City have gone up significantly,” Morris said. “From $64 to $92.”
A total of 132 Kachemak City residences, and the approximately 20 Homer homes that are on city sewer but not water, are affected by this particular increase situation.
After evaluating the wastewater rates of 55 of the Kachemak City homes, Morris said, he estimates average usage to be closer to 1800 gallons per month, excluding the Bear Creek Winery.
For that reason, and because of the historical partnership with the city in establishing wastewater infrastructure, Morris said, he believes a more equitable rate can be negotiated.
“We would like to settle on 2500 gallons which hopefully you guys would agree is a more reasonable number,” Morris said.
Council member Beauregard Burgess thinks that more consideration needs to be given to defining the relationship between Kachemak City and Homer, he said, before any further agreements are made.
Furthermore, he said, he’s not sure the rough estimates set up by either group are necessarily accurate or appropriate for the situation.
“I think if we’re going to base our rates on statistics or facts we should really have a means to asses what those numbers really are,” Burgess said.
Several council members supported moving toward some sort of metering system rather than the currently established average.
It was noted, however, that the cost of installing, maintaining and then regularly reading those meters is an added expense and complication, which might end up creating new problems even as it solves the old ones.
An alternative would be having one single metering device at the point where Kachemak City connects to Homer’s system, Council member Francie Roberts said, as Kachemak City as it stands is one single customer. They can work out an equitable system among their residents on their own after that, she said.
Morris was concerned that infiltrations and inflow — water from storm or thaw influx entering the system — would be counted into the grand total measured at the confluence, then billed to Kachemak City.
While a few suggestions were floated — such as allowing for an estimated amount of infiltration — the council ultimately landed on the need for more exploration into the historical and thus future intergovernmental workings between the two cities.
Mayor Beth Wythe is hesitant to give as much credence to Kachemak City’s financial partnership as Mayor Morris, though, largely due to the fact that the funds initially supplied by Kachemak City for the treatment plant were grants.
“When I look at that, grant funds are grant funds,” Wythe said. “And certainly you were participatory in helping to acquire the required volume of grant funds, but i don’t see that necessarily buying you any position moving forward.”
Morris added that he wasn’t looking to overcomplicate the agreement or the details, but hoped a reasonable solution could be found.
“We are looking for an efficient, cost effective way to mitigate what we see as an overcharge,” Morris said. “We have that possibility if we got down to 2500 gallons.”
Wrede estimated that drop would cause a total decrease in $40,000 in city income.
Despite implementation challenges, Roberts still leaned toward a more precise measurement system.
“I think metering would resolve the problem,” Roberts said. “We wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation at all. We’d know very clearly what’s going on.”
The discussion ended with a short-term goal of finding a solution to the pressure Kachemak City and some Homer residents are feelings from high fees, exploring metering possibilities, as well as entering into a more longterm discussion regarding the future of Kachemak City and Homer interactions.
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