By Heidi Zemach for SCN -
At Monday’s October 14 Council Meeting the City Council made arrangements for the clerk to put out a call for qualified candidates to apply to fill the remainder of mayor-elect Jean Bardarson’s council seat, which ends in October of 2014. That person would be chosen by a paper ballot, and/or voice-vote, and approved by no less than four of the remaining council members during the first meeting November 12th. The person will be considered qualified to apply if they are registered to vote in city elections, and have lived in the city for at least a year. The deadline to apply, and file completed financial disclosure/conflict of interest statements is November 1st.
Even before they discussed it, however, Tim McDonald, Bardarson’s electoral opponent gave notice that he plans to apply for the seat.
During Citizen’s Comments he outlined his campaign focus. In these times of fiscal uncertainty, with the federal government experiencing problems, Seward may be at risk by things beyond its control, he said. As a fiscal conservative who believes in honest and efficient government, the city needs to be particularly careful with its finances. “I believe contracts need to be audited, namely the shipyard (Seward Ships at Seward Marine Industrial Center),” he said. “The time for Crony Capitalism is over.”
“Crony capitalism” is a term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials, according to the Babylon dictionary definition. “It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, and so forth.”
Calling the shipyard one of Seward’s “most valuable assets,” McDonald said it was up to the public to speak up and demand fair and honest government. “That will be my mantra if chosen,” he said.
A group of Lowell Point residents also spoke during Citizen’s Comments. After thanking the city, its staff and public works department for its recent informational meeting to discuss the sewage lagoon at the outskirts of their neighborhood, which is well overdue for bio-solid sludge dredging and mechanical attention, and stank greatly during the spring and summer, residents Lynda Paquette and Teri Arnold offered some new suggestions.
Paquette suggested the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Panel, made up of residents from both inside and outside the city limits, who would assist the city in determining the best plan for handling wastewater in the future, given all of the new advances in technology pertaining to waste management. The panel would be tasked with doing the research, brainstorming, and ultimately making recommendations to the city about the future needs of the growing community, one that is clearly outgrowing the current lagoon infrastructure, especially during summer months. The City Public Works department is too limited, and its staff are kept too busy with daily tasks to take on this kind of an effort, she said.
Teri Arnold read her second recommendation, which she also supports: that the city hire Steve Harris, of H & S Environmental LLC, to help figure out a strategy for dealing with the smell issue, and to improve the city’s ability to proactively suppress bad odors next summer. Harris teaches many of the Lagoon Operator classes for Alaska Rural Water, and is well known at DEC and throughout Alaska, she said. According to Paquette, Harris believes that the city should be able to be much more responsive to changes in climate (heat) and population, and could have the ability to reverse an anaerobic condition, or problems with effective aeration concentrations at the lagoon should it occur. He is the kind of engineer that other engineers and lagoon consultants will hire as their consultant, she said. He would charge $5,000 for the effort.
“If there is newer technology we can use that would be more efficient, instead of the old, to me it makes sense,” said Councilmember Marianna Kiel, “and also to get a second opinion on the smell.”
The report outlining plans for the lagoon will be finalized 35-40 days from now, said City Manager Jim Hunt. But the city had already purchased a new dissolved oxygen meter, and is awaiting its arrival. The city’s engineer, Loren Leman works at one of the premier firms in the state, and is up to date on the latest technology available, he told the Lowell Point residents. The city is only limited in what it can do by the amount of funding available, Hunt said and its top priority is to dredge the Lagoon. Even with the SMIC Lagoon not included, it would still cost an estimated $1.2 or 1.3 million to both dredge and dispose of the Lowell Point lagoon’s sludge, Hunt said. With wastewater rates as low as they are, the city would not qualify for a federal loan for that amount, as it wouldn’t cover the loan re-payments, he said, so the city is looking at acquiring a lot of state assistance.
“Where’s our priority?” said City Mayor-Elect Bardarson.
“We do have five months of savings in the bank,” added Councilmember Christy Terry.
During her comments, Paquette quoted from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s landfill director Jack Maryott, who told her that the borough’s budget for solid waste management is second only to its budget for education. When asked why that was, he told her because the issue was a matter of public health and safety, she said.
Harbor Fees and Office Closure
The council postponed a resolution increasing moorage and electric rates for 2014 and 2015, as outlined in the Port & Harbor Tariff regulations. The fees would each be increased by at least 2.6 percent, the estimated Anchorage Cost Price Index or CPI. The city also would directly pass along to harbor customers any electric rate increases by the amount that it is charged by Chugach Electric. In February 2013 there was a 7% increase in rates paid by the Harbor that was not passed along to customers. For that reason, the increases proposed are actually 2014 Harbor-8.3%; 2014 SMIC-6.25%; 2014 customer charges-2.6%; 2015 Harrbor-3.8%; 2015 SMIC-2.9%; and 2015 customer charges-2.6%.
The decision amending the tariffs was postponed to the October 28th meeting. however, after council raised questions about the lack of prior notice to harbor customers about the proposed fee increases, and the written objections of Deborah Altermatt, of Alaska Sailing Inc., about the harbor director’s abrupt closing of the harbor office during the weekends for the remainder of the winter season, thus inconveniencing customers. The harbor office has been open on weekends for at least the past 20 years, Altermatt wrote the council. Nearly 70 percent of harbor users are from out of town, and come to Seward on weekends to attend to their boating needs. Often they have business with the harbor, such as in the early fall when winter boat slips are being assigned, haul outs are needed, or payments need to be made for the waitlist, electric or moorage renewals, she said. While in town, they stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants, and a ripple effect on the economy could be expected by the office closure.
“To vote for increased moorage fees, yet provide less service is sending out a negative message to boat owners, and even to potential new users who are looking for a new home port,” she wrote.
Harbormaster Mack Funk defended his decision to close the harbor office on weekends, when use is lower, saying his staff need to be able to take vacations, or take sick time off—both of which they are asked to avoid during the busy summer months. Over the past two weekends in which the harbor office was closed, the number of customer phone calls for business he received were relatively few, he said, and were not vital for their vessel operations.
Council members asked the city to notify harbor customers, explaining the proposed changes, and to allow the council approve the letter. Terry asked that the letter note how valuable those customers are to Seward, and to remind them that Seward remains open for business year-round.
The council also:
-amended and corrected the operating budget at the Small Boat Harbor (by transferring $106,000 from harbor reserve accounts over the next two years) for increased electrical costs due to harbor expansion to the south and east.
-authorized a $36,000 construction contract change order with Harmon Construction for asbestos abatement in the harbor restrooms.
-passed a resolution supporting the expansion project at Seward Marine Industrial Center.
-passed a resolution transferring $37,500 of 2012 Raw Fish Tax receipts to the Seward Chamber of Commerce to purchase and rear 75,000 Coho smolts.
-awarded a $43,000 contract for custodial services to Merritt Enterprises for the Teen and Youth Center, the Rec Room, and the AVTEC student services center.
-authorized the city manager to enter into a new lease with GCI Communications at Fourth of July Creek subdivision.