By Heidi Zemach for SCN -
The bills people pay the city for a variety of services will rise by at least 2.6 percent in the coming two years, some of them by even more than that, but city sales taxes, property taxes, and bed-(hotel/motel) taxes will stay the same.
At Monday’s Oct 28 regular meeting, Seward City Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting the City General Fund, and its “enterprise fund” accounts for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The resolution includes automatic 2.6% increases in all fees based on the Anchorage CPI (Cost Price Index) for the previous five years. The resolution also included the biennial budget’s capital improvement plan, and set the Mill Rate at the current 3.12 mills.
There were no new revenues slated for the General Fund Budget over the next two years, except for a new proposed fee for the dump station in the campgrounds, which is proposed at five dollars per dump via a new computer-operated station.
The CPI-related fee increases were automatically rolled into the budget resolution approved without public hearing as the council had previously decided they would be during earlier budget discussions. But those services with higher increases, such as sewage and harbor fees, are considered separately, with public hearings scheduled for them.
It’s noteworthy that although only CPI-related electricity fee increases were included in the resolution adopted Monday, customers can expect additional increases in their electric bills, as Chugach Electric Inc. rates are increasing, and those are now automatically passed along to city customers.
In a separate resolution Monday night, proposed increases in the Harbor Tariff were approved after a public hearing was held on them. They include moorage rate CPI increases of 2.6 %, and electric rate increases of 8.3% in 2014, and 3.8% in 2015. The higher electricity rates are geared to allow the harbor department to pay the city for the increased costs it will charge the harbor department for electricity, and to fund things such as utilities in its four restrooms, keeping lights on the docks, reading electric meters and administering charges those customers, said Harbormaster Mack Funk.
The Port and Commerce Advisory Board unanimously recommended the new harbor tariffs early, following its own public hearing. But, at the council’s request, the harbor department also sent out notices of the proposed change to 461 customers, many of whom aren’t year-round residents. Of the 10 written comments received back, five favored the proposed changes, three were opposed, and two had questions.
On November 12th, city administration also plans to recommend an additional increase in wastewater fees of 5.2 % in 2014, and 5.2% in 2015 in order to build up the fund to begin meeting its aging infrastructure needs. The city council has not funded the department enough to keep pace with operating or debt service costs said Finance Director Kris Erchinger. Nor has it apparently funded its Maintenance Repair and Replacement Funds (MRRF) over the past few decades. The proposed fee increase is scheduled for a public hearing and enactment next month.
The council scheduled a budget work session for Monday, November 4, at 7:00 p.m., to discuss further aspects of the biennial budget that are still being worked out. For instance, the city administration wants to create a new project manager position in the Public Works Department for 2015, and there has been some disagreement expressed about the need for that. These duties have been done in-house. The Animal Control Officer position, which has been contracted out to the private sector at lower expense to the city, will now become a new city employee position in the police department, as required by the IRS, Erchinger said.
Council members also have discussed whether Harbormaster Funk should be able to close the office on weekends in January through March, and suggested he consider eliminating one of the three harbor office positions during the off-season. The harbormaster recently reopened the harbor office on Saturdays after council and Deborah Altermatt, (President of the Port and Commerce Advisory Board and owner of Sailing Inc.), and complained about the harbor office having been closed on weekends. Funk promised to cross-train his employees so that more of them can handle more harbor duties.
The new Seward Library & Museum construction bond repayment is also included in the proposed budget at $245,000 per year through 2036. The biennial budgets also include funding an additional 156 summer staff hours at the new library. The council also budgeted an additional $15,000 to the Seward Senior Center, and $25,000 to the Seward Boys & Girls Club.
In other actions Monday, the council amended and approved its 2014 official priority lists for the city, state and federal government. The lists help guide the city lobbyists, and guide their own lobbying efforts in Juneau and Washington D.C. The council passed an amendment by Councilmember Marianna Keil that adds $1 million for a new Animal Shelter Building to every list, as that project was not on any of those lists.
Topping the state priority list for “Ports and Harbors” is a request for $7.9 million to complete the Seward Marine Industrial Center breakwater. Under “Public Facilities” is a request for $1.2 million to dredge the city sewage lagoon. There’s also a request for $2.25 million for repaving roads and improving drainage systems on Seward Community Roads; and another $2.4 million for protecting Lowell Point Road. The City list alone lists almost $43 million in projects including requesting the Army Corps of Engineers for $2 million to mitigate flood risk at Lowell Creek Tunnel, and almost $8 million for a Seward Flood Mitigation Program.