By Russell Stigall for Seward City News –
The City of Seward has options but no guarantees as it seeks recreational facilities to replace AVTEC.
Citizens, city council members and several City staff felt compelled to comment on Seward’s Parks and Recreation withdrawal from Alaska Vocational Technical Center’s recreation facilities at Monday’s Seward City Council meeting. Arguments pro and con ran a wide gamut.
Public notification of the City’s decision to vacate its agreement with AVTEC came around two weeks before the decision was carried out. Local access to AVTEC’s facilities ceased on August 1.
“How did we get here?” Seward City Council Member Rissie Casagranda questioned City staff about the City of Seward and AVTEC parting ways.
The short answer is a breakdown in negotiation between the City of Seward and AVTEC. This was coupled with the City’s adaptation to Seward’s changing business landscape.
“We haven’t given up on this,” City of Seward Assistant City Manager Ron Long said. “Give us time to work through it. Let us bring something before the council and the public on a way to keep these programs moving.”
AVTEC Acting Director Daniel Repasky said after Monday’s meeting that negotiations with the City are ongoing and that communication with the City is ongoing. He hasn’t given up making a deal.
This difference between AVTEC and City opinions may be part of their negotiations – using public venues as another place to joust. However, in the City’s eyes negotiations may be over.
Years ago AVTEC was the only place to go, Long said. The town has grown since then and AVTEC is not the only health and fitness facility in town. Local gym owners have questioned in the past whether the city should be in competition, he said.
“We take that very seriously,” Long said.
The City has turned to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for access to its local facilities. Negotiations are ongoing.
“How long … before we come to a conclusion? Months or years,” Casagranda asked the Assistant City Manger.
“Certainly not years,” Long said. “We hope to have something back before you very soon.”
City Manager Jim Hunt said ongoing negotiations with the school district could bear fruit in weeks. Sewardites already have access to William H. Seward High’s pool, Hunt said this could extend to gym and weight room access.
Long said the City might want to distance itself from state-run organizations while the state works out its well-known financial troubles.
“The state may be less stable [than the school district] for the next five to ten years,” Long said.
Marianna Keil, Vice Mayor, added to that thought saying any saving to City coffers will help as state funding dries up.
The City’s contract with AVTEC came to an end this year and a renegotiation was in store. After a bit of back and forth an increase in cost to the City of $500 per month was proposed by AVTEC – from $1,500 to $2,000 per month. Some in attendance at Monday’s meeting thought $500 was a small price to pay for access to recreation. However, a lease increase was only the start of the City’s costs, Assistant Mayor Long said. Custodial fees and a tight employee pool also contributed to the City’s decision.
Three city employees formerly staffed at AVTEC are redeployed to reduce over-time in other departments.
People in attendance once lifted in AVTEC’s weight room, steamed in its sauna or chased toddlers in its gym. They have real, physical connections to this issue.
Seward resident Amanda Adams said she attended Monday’s council meeting to get answers.
“I came to learn what the situation was from the source,” Adams said. “I got what I needed and will continue to follow the issue.”
Adams gave comments at the beginning of the meeting. She said she is worried what will become of the programs and activities provided to parents by AVTEC and Parks and Rec.
“I want to remind the council that our kids need a place to go on rainy days and in the winter,” Adams said during comments.
Some citizens questioned why Seward’s residents or council members were not notified of the City’s negotiations. City staff are required to bring final contracts to council members before they are signed. This requirement was not triggered since no agreement on a contract was reached between AVTEC and City staff.
City Council Member Sue McClure said she hoped the situation would work out in everyone’s favor.
“I’m a user,” McClure said. “I’m one of the old people who walks in there when it’s slippery.” She said she is confident a solution can be found.
Seward Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cindy Clock said the city is better to not compete with private health and fitness businesses in town.
“The Seward Chamber represents two members, two gyms, that are pretty happy that the city was going to quit competing with them,” Clock said during Chamber comments Monday night. “We are all for the city not competing with business.”
She also said locals could AVTEC facilities directly.
“AVTEC is not going anywhere,” Clock said. It is already looking to new partners for its services.
Clocks chamber comments continue below with some interesting news for Seward food lovers and a frightening tourism forecast for the state.
Chamber of Commerce Report
Chamber has formed a task force to find ways to better public offerings on the Fourth of July. One idea would see vendors in Lowell Canyon to serve spectators at the base of Mount Marathon.
Alaska’s Tourism Marketing Board received a “crippling budget slash” from a high last year of $18 million down to $1.5 million for fiscal year 2017. Hawaii spent $84 million in 2015. Arkansas spent $17 Million. The Board will also close its international offices.
“Expect in 2017, 2018 and 2019 we will see a decrease in visitors,” Seward Chamber Executive Director Cindy Clock said.
Kenai Peninsula Borough
The Pit Bar applied to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for a restaurant license.
The Borough is accepting public input on a proposed tax revision. Changes could affect Bed and Breakfast operations and flight and guided trips.
The City of Seward is working with the Alaska Rail Road on plan to remove excess gravel from area streams.
A proactive effort to adapt to expected requirements of Railbelt utilities, City staff have begun to build a report on a proposal by Transco to buy and sell the power Seward uses and produces. Transco would aggregate power from multiple providers as a “much more achievable first step” to consolidation.
The City does not dump raw sewage into Resurrection Bay, Assistant City Manager Ron Long said. Its current sewage system is sufficiently large for current use and able to scale to growth.
The end is nigh for potholes. Seward plans to pave its roads next year.
While the City has looked into a recreational facility of its own, all efforts at running a bowling alley are left in the hands of private business. As such, while the City has heard from interested parties on the matter, it does not itself have plans to open a bowling alley.