• Full agenda sees council name library garden after longtime supporter, consider traffic-calming, tree-clearing measures
By Carey Restino
Several city residents impacted by the way the city of Homer has chosen to assess the cost of connecting natural gas for condominium owners and hoping for change following a court ruling against the city on the issue were disappointed Monday evening.
City manager Walt Wrede said the city is still reviewing the impacts of a court decision that found that the city had unfairly assessed connection fees for condo owners hooking up to natural gas. While apartment buildings are charged for a single hook-up fee of $3,283 to get natural gas flowing to all units, condo owners are charged per unit. The decision was contested in court by part-owner of the Kachemak Bay Title building Ken Castner, who prevailed. The city was ordered to re-evaluate its assessment for condo owners, something that is currently underway, Wrede said. But the Castner case doesn’t mean all condo buildings will now be assessed for a single hook-up charge, he said.
“The city is looking at the judge’s decision and looking at how condos are assessed but (condo owners) should not just assume that the city has concluded that the way to do it is one assessment per condominium,” Wrede said, adding that he plans to have a report for the next meeting in mid-July but he doesn’t want to predict how that will go since the city is looking at a full range of options.
Condo owners who testified Monday did not seem happy with the city’s approach, saying they wanted to know what the city’s intent is with regard to their assessments and presenting the council with a list of owners who planned to take legal action against the city like Castner if the city continued to assess them individually.
Amy Springer called the city’s assessment of condo owners “arbitrary and unreasonable,” noting that assessments were per lot until condos were singled out. The residents of the Landings Complex would be paying some $70,000 for the natural gas lines, while similar-sized apartment complexes were only paying $3,283. She urged the city to follow what she saw as the court’s mandate to reevaluate how condos were assessed. Springer wondered how much the city was going to pay in legal fees to fight these cases if it opted to ignore the court’s ruling.
Wrede noted, however, that it wasn’t just condo owners who were coming to him with concerns about how the city would pay for the natural gas line coming to the southern Kenai Peninsula. If the condo owners assessments are modified, the cost to other users will change, too. Wrede reportedly said following the ruling that there are more than 100 properties impacted by the judge’s decision, so the city could be faced with redistributing some $300,000 throughout the assessment district.
How is it fair to charge one price to a single homeowners and another to a condo owner when the only difference is he’s got a common roof, Wrede asked.
“No matter how you set this assessment district up, someone was going to think it wasn’t fair,” Wrede said. “We’re not just trying to be fair to the condo owners, we’re trying to be fair to the others as well, so it’s a balancing act as usual.”
An area of town center owned by the city will be getting some attention soon after Homer Police reported it is becoming a popular place for illegal activities and makeshift camping.
“The problems this year seem like they are worse than in years past,” Wrede told the council.
The area is located right behind the laundry off Main Street. With its dense trees and limited visibility, it has become a hot spot for criminal activity, police say. And, despite several attempts to clear out camps, it continues to cause problems.
The city would like to clean out the black spruce and limb up the larger trees so police can see into the area more easily. But there may be wetlands issues that would prevent equipment from going into the area until the ground is frozen, Wrede reported.
Longtime Rotary member and library garden enthusiast Peter Larson was honored posthumously on Monday night when the council voted in favor of naming a garden near the Homer Public Library after him.
Larson was an avid library supporter and gardener who was instrumental in creating the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay-maintained garden on the west side of the library parking lot. The garden is now the “Peter Larson Memorial Rotary Garden.”
Larson died in late January.
Borough Assemblyman Bill Smith reported to the council that he had introduced several measures in addition to the controversial bed tax vote at the Kenai Peninsula Borough level.
One such issue was an idea to expand the boundaries of the South Peninsula Service Area to include the waters of Kachemak Bay. While this would not draw any more residents into the area, it would allow taxes to be collected for oil rigs and other semi-permanent fixtures in Kachemak Bay.
“It seems appropriate for these structures to be asked to pay the local municipalities what their share is,” Smith said. “If (drill rig workers) get hurt, where are they going to go?”
Smith said he was also pushing the idea of voting by mail; a proposal that has been successful in increasing voter rates in other areas. While he has heard concerns from people who like going to the voting booth, Smith said the bottom line is that the voter rate remains below 20 percent.
“If we can bring the ballot to your door, then we’re hoping to get an increase,” he said.
The council has an extended break next month, meeting again on July 28.
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