• City Council covers ethics complaints, Senior Center funding, tower regulations and more
By Hannah Heimbuch
Another Homer intersection is on its way toward an upgrade, following support from the Homer City Council Monday evening.
On a recommendation from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the council passed a resolution backing a plan to put a traffic signal with a right-hand turn lane at the intersection of Main Street and the Sterling Highway.
The DOT initially considered three options to mitigate traffic congestion and collision danger at the busy intersection, including a roundabout, a signal without a turn lane, and a signal with a turn lane.
The roundabout was the most expensive option, at $4 million. The signal with a turn lane was in the middle, coming in at $2 million, but DOT representatives believe it will be money well-spent on a feature that will likely be necessary in the near future — if not now.
“Constructing the turn lanes can be completed at much lower cost as part of the initial signal installation, rather than revisiting the intersection to install the turn lanes in the future,” wrote Carla J. Smith of the DOT in a letter to Homer City Manager Walt Wrede. “Based on this information, we will move forward with design of the signal with turn lanes alternative.”
Smith noted in her letter that long-term funding for maintenance of the signal — traditionally the responsibility of the ADOT — still needs to be discussed between the agencies concerned, taking into consideration budget challenges and future needs.
The city’s resolution language addressed the same issue, stating, “The City Council finds that maintenance and operation of the traffic signal is a State responsibility and maintenance and operation costs should not be imposed upon the City.”
According to the resolution adopted by the council Monday night, the DOT applied for and secured funds for the improvement through the Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program. The department has considered engineering, design and potential alternatives for the intersection for the last year, and was awaiting endorsement from the city before taking the next steps toward construction.
In other business, councilmembers retreated to a private executive session to discuss seven separate ethics complaints. One ethics complaint, the first of 2014, was discussed in executive session at the previous council meeting. Ethics complaints at this stage of the public process are kept confidential.
Council awarded a $54,273.80-per-year contract to the Firm of Moore & Moore Services, Inc of Homer. The three-year contract is for solid waste collection and disposal.
Several city residents showed support for city funding of the Homer Senior Center’s conversion to natural gas. Executive Director Keren Kelley of Homer Senior Citizens, Inc., noted that city support is an important part of securing similar funding from the State of Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
“If we are to remain a viable, thriving organization, your financial support is necessary,” Kelley wrote in her letter of request. They are requesting $100,000 to put toward the natural gas conversion project, and future line-item funding.
Mayor Beth Wythe and Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter swore in a new class of firefighters and EMTs, commending them for their work in completing the training, and their volunteer service to the community. Without volunteer support, said Chief Painter, the department’s five paid employees would not be able to answer the many calls the department gets. They reportedly average 600 fire and/or EMS calls per year.
Pedro Ochoa was appointed student representative to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission.
An ordinance proposing changes to zoning codes regarding construction of communications towers was introduced and referred to the planning commission. Councilman Gus Van Dyke moved to amend ordinance language for the changes to apply to all towers, not just communication towers.
The council was split in a vote regarding major changes to membership in the Lease Committee, eventually passing a resolution that eliminates public members of the committee and returns it to an administrative committee.
Councilmembers Van Dyke, Bryan Zak and Beau Burgess voted against the resolution, while Francie Roberts, Barbara Howard and David Lewis supported it. Mayor Wythe broke the tie, voting to pass the resolution.
Support from Mayor Wythe and City Manager Walt Wrede noted that the change will eliminate redundancy and inefficiency in the lease process. During public testimony, Homer resident Kevin Hogan questioned the wisdom of removing public input from the committee’s important responsibilities.
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