• Ordinance to fund $100,000 of Senior Center natural gas conversion project voted down
By Hannah Heimbuch
After months of Homer City Council discussion and public testimony by city employees, council members passed a resolution Monday evening to make a 20 percent cut in employee healthcare costs.
The reprieve goes into effect July 1 and lasts through the end of the year — an attempt to alleviate some of the financial pressure felt by employees and their families after significant increases to their insurance premiums at the beginning of 2014.
This decision follows a plan set in motion in January, which called for a review of the healthcare budget at mid-year. Under the new plan, utilization has gone down and the fund balance has traveled slowly higher into the black, leading the city toward a tentative decision to ease back the premiums.
Though the resolution was approved unanimously, several council members discussed their concern that making this decision now could be a risk — should utilization rise significantly or other budget pressures increase.
Councilman Beau Burgess viewed the expenditure as well worth the cost considering the benefit to employees, but approved it cautiously.
“In the future I’d like to evaluate this more in depth on an annual basis,” he said. “But I think the city manager is striking a reasonable compromise here.”
The council decided against distributing funds to another group, voting down an ordinance that would have appropriated $100,000 toward supporting the Homer Senior Center’s conversion to natural gas.
Executive Director of Homer Senior Citizens, Inc. Keren Kelley spoke in favor of the ordinance. She pointed out the significant economic and social contribution seniors make to the Homer community.
“Seniors invest in housing, utilities, medical, care providers and retail. Their families come to visit them, bringing critical tourist dollars,” Kelley said. “Keeping an active and vital senior center provides the safety net for our community. Your action will keep this vital program for seniors active for the next 40 years.”
Council member David Lewis, who brought forward the ordinance, noted that Homer is one of the few cities not funding facilities for senior services in some way, and that the money would be a good investment in both Homer’s history and future.
Though many members of the council remarked on the good intent of the ordinance and the importance of the senior population, they questioned the wisdom of the expenditure at this time.
Council member Barbara Howard felt that the city’s budget and recent cuts did not reflect opportunity for such new spending at this time.
“We aren’t there yet,” she said. “We are not able to be lavish with this. How about if they raise their rates where they need to with their customer base?”
Burgess noted that there are a number of non profits in town looking to convert their systems as well.
“If we say yes to this request, we need to be prepared to say yes another couple of dozen times,” he said.
Council member Francie Roberts agreed.
“There will be many more non profits coming forward,” she said, “and I don’t see how I can choose one and not another.”
In other council business
• The council voted down a resolution proposing that the regular city council meeting open with a prayer, setting an intention of collaboration and community service for the business of the day. While many remarked on the good spirit of the resolution — brought by council member Bryan Zak — council members Lewis and Burgess in particular were concerned about bringing religious connotation into the meeting. It has the potential to be off putting to non-religious community members, Burgess said, while Lewis was concerned that any inclusion of prayer needed to in turn reflect inclusion of all faith systems and religions. He produced a 14-page document outlining those that would need to be included. The council amended the resolution to replace the word “prayer” with “reflective moment of silence,” then voted down the resolution entirely.
• Lance Petersen was appointed to the Public Arts Committee.
• Council introduced an ordinance to fund improvements at the small boat harbor and launch ramp from the Port and Harbor Reserves, in the amount of $600,000. The public hearing and second reading will be held June 23.
• An ordinance was introduced to allocate $37,708 for a part-time administrative assistant at Public Works. A public hearing and second reading will be held June 23.
• Council passed a resolution requesting that the Department of Transportation consider traffic changes out East End Road, including lowering the speed limit to 35 out to the western fork of Bear Creek Drive. The intent is to create safer traffic patterns past the Kachemak Bay Equestrian Horse Park and Jack Gist Park. Other requests include additional signage and a cross walk.
• Council passed a resolution establishing a speed limit and prohibiting parking along the roadway at Karen Hornaday Park.
• The firm Intelligent Design, LLC of Anchorage was granted a $65,835 contract for conversion of several city facilities to natural gas.
• Several lots were conveyed to Kachemak Bay Equestrian Association Inc. for use as an equestrian park.
• Council approved support of the DOT’s Pioneer Avenue Rehabilitation Project.
• The contract for a parks, art, recreation and culture needs assessment was awarded to the firm of Agnew Beck Consulting, LLC of Anchorage.
• An $18,459 contract for a disinfection byproducts reduction study on Homer’s water treatment and distribution system was awarded to the firm of HDR, Inc. of Anchorage.
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