By Carey Restino
It has been five months since the city of Homer revamped its water and sewer rate structure amid great debate that incurred the ire of owners of large businesses like Land’s End Resort as well as Kachemak City residents, who said they were being unfairly assessed.
On Monday, the city council accepted the recommendation of its city manager to keep the new water and sewer rate structure in place for at least another six months to see how it pencils out. Of all the individuals and groups that turned up to testify during the rate-setting process last winter, only one returned to the council this week – those from Kachemak City.
“As usual, Kachemak City gets mistreated by Homer even though we’ve been a very important partner,” said David Raskin, a Kachemak City resident, who said he and others in Kachemak City are upset at the amount they are being charged for sewer service.
Kachemak City residents don’t receive water from the city of Homer. Some get their water delivered while others have wells or, like Raskin, collect water from their roofs. Because of this, it’s harder for the city of Homer to tell how much to charge the residents of its neighbor city for sewer – in Homer, residents are charged by the amount of water they take in with the assumption that what comes in must go out. When the city redesigned its water and sewer rates, it set an amount of sewer it was assuming Kachemak City residents produced per house at 3,500 gallons per month. That’s too much, said Raskin. Kachemak City residents use less – more like 2,000 gallons a month according to their surveys, he said.
“People in Kachemak City do not water their lawns like they do in Homer,” Raskin said.
But the Homer City Council remained skeptical, saying the Kachemak City survey of water use only queried those who had water delivered. Those residents likely use less since they are paying for every drop, said city councilman Beau Burgess. What about those getting water for free, not to mention large water users like the winery located in Kachemak City. Burgess, who worked on the water and sewer rate committee for months prior to the city of Homer’s adoption of the new rates, said planners have struggled to look for some way to meter residents of Kachemak City, but given all the different ways water is collected, it is difficult to design a way to assess Kachemak City residents’ water use.
City Manager Walt Wrede said the city had looked into metering the flow of sewage from Kachemak City as it comes into the Homer system and said it could be done, but such meters tend to get clogged up and require a lot of maintenance.
Also at issue is that the city of Homer must pump all of Kachemak City’s sewer uphill to get to the sewer treatment facility using a lift station. When the rates were revamped, Kachemak City residents began paying more because they were in a lift station region, but said they were unfairly paying for lift station expenses in other areas of Homer.
City council members took exception to claims by Raskin that the city of Homer has stonewalled or treated Kachemak City residents unfairly. Kachemak City was able to secure funds for the city of Homer’s water system when it was being constructed, and some in Kachemak City feel the city of Homer isn’t taking its contribution into account when setting the per-house rate.
In correspondence between the city of Homer and Kachemak City Mayor Philemon Morris, the issue of some $20,000 in unpaid water and sewer fees was brought up, with Morris saying Kachemak City is “at its wits end trying to address this issue since last year.”
Morris said while they would like to settle the issue in house, they have received legal counsel on the issue.
Notably absent from Monday night’s discussion about water and sewer rates were any Homer residents, including the numerous large business owners who debated the rate structure last winter. While representatives from Land’s End Resort were at the council meeting to speak on a different issue, they did not testify in opposition of the water and sewer rates being extended for another six months.
“That probably means we are on the right track,” said Councilwoman Francie Roberts.
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