By Kelley Lane for Seward City News –
On Monday evening, February 27th, City Council convened its second meeting of the month at its regularly scheduled time of 7pm in the Council Chambers at Seward’s City Hall. In attendance were Mayor Bardarson, Council Members Kiel, Casagranda, Squires, McClure and Slater as well as City Manager Jim Hunt and Assistant City Manager Ron Long. Council Member Altermatt was absent. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Citizen Comments were heard from David Cleveland of Sterling, who has submitted his name for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seat that was vacated by Brandii Holmdahl recently. “I live way outside the City Limits” said Cleveland, but went on to explain that he has ties to Seward that began when he started his career many years ago at Spring Creek Correctional Center. Cleveland said that he “wanted to put a face to a name” before the election, which will take place at the March 8th Assembly meeting.
Chamber of Commerce Director Cindy Clock gave her monthly report in which she talked about the strategic goals that the Chamber has identified. Among these goals are to increase in-state tourism, particularly in the form of encouraging pre-season familiarization “fam” tours, getting Anchorage residents to visit Seward and coordinating with Anchorage-based conference Oceans17, which will be held in late September. Clock has been working on putting together packages to bring some of the 2,000 participants to Seward prior to the conference, when the Alaska railroad will still be running between Anchorage and Seward. Clock closed her report by referencing Ron Long’s discovery that Smithsonian Magazine named Seward as its #1 “Small Towns to Visit in 2016.”
In Jim Hunt’s City Manager’s Report, he spoke of having attended the Alaska Municipal League (AML) Meetings last week. Hunt mentioned a rumor that he’s heard circulating around Seward about the possibility of Spring Creek Correctional Center closing its doors due to budget cuts. Hunt and Mayor Bardarson were able to speak with Senator Peter Micciche and the Director of Corrections for Alaska. In this conversation, they were assured that there are no plans to close Spring Creek, and the there is no intent of even touching the Department of Corrections budget.
Joe Fong, Administrator at Providence Medical & Care Center presented the Annual Report in which he gave a review of 2016. He explained that the projected budget of 20 million was not met, mostly due to the lower census at Mountain Haven. The facilities were able to trim costs, keeping them below budget, but still not enough to make up for the shortfall. As a result, Fong and his staff have developed a conservative budget for 2017, which includes more room for deductions that arise when the cost of services is not met with full payment due to a variety of factors. Providence has projected a net income of $390,000 for 2017 and hopes to attract more elders to Mountain Haven. “Our census continues to be our biggest challenge” Fong said. Fong went on to explain that Providence has made improvements this year in providing more services in Seward, such as having recurring speciality clinics for outpatient procedures by Dr. Flynn and podiatry services by Dr. Cotler. When questioned by Council Member Keil about the impact of the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Fong said that “it’s hard to predict and be ready” for changes to healthcare. Council Member Squires asked about the current census at Mountain Haven and was informed that it is 25 at present, while a census of 34 is necessary to meet the budget.
Mayor Bardarson reported the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will be holding a national drug take back day on April 29th, 2017. The agency disperses bags of charcoal to municipalities, to which prescription drugs are added, along with water, which renders the drugs non reactive and thus able to be disposed of in landfills.
Ron Long gave the State of the City Report which included a thorough explanation of Seward’s revenue streams. Long said “if we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it,” and went on to explain that over half of Seward’s economy comes from the “volatile market of visitor spending” for a total of 65 million dollars. The remainder of Seward’s economy is the 60 million that circulates in the other industries during non summer seasons. The City’s budget is not the economy, but is largely affected by spending, as “3/4ths comes from sales tax” said Long, who said that the total City budget is 6 million dollars. Long stated that the number of new electrical meters is a good indicator of a City’s growth, and said that Seward had 37 new meters last year.
The evening’s meeting had one resolution to discuss and vote upon, a non contentious replatting. Resolution 2017-012 dealt with replatting land located above the Lagoon, near Ravina & Vista Avenues. This was land acquired by Howard Faust & his spouse through a City closed bid auction, a total of 8 parcels. The Resolution vacates the interior lot lines and moves around the Rights of Way, in order to allow for the construction of one single family home. These parcels all exist within the R1, Residential Single Family Zoning District, which made the replatting straightforward. The discussion centered around the ability of the Fausts to install a septic system, as the properties are more than 200 feet away from existing City Sewer systems. Howard Faust was on hand and explained that the percolation test for septic was perfect. The resolution passed unanimously, as this replatting fell squarely in line with the City’s Comprehensive Plan’s goal to “encourage development of new housing in Seward.”
The 50 year anniversary celebration of Seward’s Sister City relationship with Obihiro, Japan was discussed and most Council Members were pleased with the idea of using the 2018 Seward Music and Arts Festival as the locus around which to celebrate. Council Member Squires has plans to attend the Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Summit Reception in Kenai on March 4th, as he is curious to learn “how Seward will fit into” the future of LNG. Mayor Bardarson announced that the Historic Preservation Commission has one vacancy. The public portion of Council was closed at 8:39pm as Council moved into an Executive Session to evaluate the City Manager. The next City Council meeting will be held at City Council Chambers on Monday, March 13th at 7pm.