City of Seward, Council, Featured

City Council: Cannabis, Taxes & SMIC Buildup

by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
Donna Glenz (center, purple shirt) is surrounded by City Council members and others in attendance at her retirement party, held on August 28th. Photo: Kelley Lane

August is Seward’s rainiest month, and Monday was no exception. The skies did cease their rainfall in the early evening hours, as Donna Glenz’s retirement party, appropriately held on Founder’s Day, took place at the City Hall Annex Building. City Council conducted a Work Session on the Community Clinic’s grant year funding cycle, which finished early, allowing the City Council Members as well as the City Administration to attend the festivities. Glenz was honored for her two and a half decades of service to the City of Seward, which started at the Seward Hospital and culminated in her position as the City Planner for the Community Development Department. Glenz received a Proclamation honoring her, thanking many in attendance for their assistance over the years, then spoke of her plans for retirement, which include spending her extra time quilting, as part of the Quilters group in Seward.

Monday evening’s Council meeting began with a citizen comment by Willard Dunham, who reminded those in attendance that the Institute of Marine Science is now entering the 50th year of its relationship with the town of Seward. He encouraged City Council to find a way to honor the anniversary, going on to explain that the Sikuliaq, a research vessel that uses Seward as its home port, would not call on Seward if it were not for the relationship with University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Marine Sciences.

Seward’s Founders Day, which commemorates the establishment of Seward as a railroad terminus, was honored with a Proclamation read by Mayor Bardarson. Earlier in the afternoon, an event had been held at the Seward Library’s Community Room. Dennis McLain gave a presentation on his building of a scale model of the SS Dora, a steamship that served the port of Seward beginning in the late 1890s. The holiday’s commemoration continued with hand-sized Seward flags left on each seat in Council Chambers for those in attendance to take home with them.

The Chamber of Commerce report was given by Cindy Clock, who said that the 2017 Silver Salmon Derby had been a success, with more than 15,000 pounds of fish weighed at the Derby booth, and high participation of 6200 entry tickets purchased. The Derby booth was staffed by many volunteers, who were gifted an appreciation dinner by Kenai Fjords Tours on Friday, August 25th. Those who attended the dinner were further honored by Governor Bill Walker and his family joining the evening cruise and dinner, as Walker was in town to discuss the airport with local officials, including Mayor Bardarson and City Manager Jim Hunt.

City Manager Jim Hunt reported that the City spent $20,000 to purchase a new backstop for the Little League field. The backstop was damaged by heavy snow loads this past winter, during a weekend of abnormally high snowfall.

Proposition 1 Seeks to Ban Cannabis Sales in KPB

Dollynda & Jeff Phelps of “Keep Cannabis Legal,” who live in the north Kenai area, gave a presentation in anticipation of Proposition 1. Proposition 1 seeks to ban cannabis businesses in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s jurisdiction, which covers all the land not incorporated into a city. Of the Borough’s 15,000 total square miles, 14,900 of them lie outside of city limits. The Phelpses discussed the economic benefits of cannabis including sales tax revenues. Per Alaska law, all sales tax revenue, including that collected on marijuana sales, is spent on local school districts.

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According to the Phelps’ report, Alaskan-owned cannabis-related businesses have spent $5.6 million to date on facility development in the Kenai Peninsula Borough since marijuana was legalized in Alaska in 2016. Alaska law requires all cannabis businesses be owned by Alaska residents. Therefore, all of the investments threatened by Proposition 1 were made exclusively by Alaskans.

Prop 1 will be voted on by non-city residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, meaning that people who live within Seward’s city limits will not be eligible to vote on this proposition. The impact is that non-city Borough residents will decide whether to remove cannabis businesses, which could force these businesses to relocate within the city limits of municipalities around the KPB, or elsewhere.

Proposed Tax Increases

The next presentation was Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, who presented the case for his sales tax proposal. According to Navarre, last year’s Borough budget experienced a $4 million shortfall. The borough withdrew these funds from its fund balance, which Navarre called “unsustainable.” One of Navarre’s tax proposals is raising the sales tax cap from $500 to $1,000. The $500 cap has been in effect since 1965.  The increase in the tax would increase the maximum amount of tax collected on individual sales from $15 to $30, at the borough’s 3% rate. Navarre expects this change would collect an additional 3.6 million annually, covering most of the $4 million funding gap in the budget. This change in the tax cap would not apply to residential rents.

SMIC Spending Proposals

After Navarre’s tax presentation, the evening’s discussion turned to spending. Resolutions 2017-047 and 2017-048 are spending proposals that work towards the goal of continuing to build infrastructure for Seward Marine Industrial Center (SMIC). Resolution 2017-047 authorizes the spending of $4.3 million for “Phase 1 Harbor Improvements.” Assistant City Manager Ron Long explained that the funds will come from the federal grant monies that Seward has been using, a fund that will soon be exhausted. He explained that when deciding how to use these funds, he strives to “bring in revenues or avoid costs.” The projects included in this resolution include adding above-ground heating elements to the boat washing station, so as to make it usable year-round, rehabilitation of the north dock, which was damaged by waves and wind prior to the completion of the facility’s breakwater, and adding 320 feet of floating dock in order to accommodate smaller (50-60 foot) boats. Ancillary to this project is Resolution 2017-048, which authorizes spending an additional $71,300 to widen the travelift by 4 feet, which will allow wider catamarans to use the SMIC facilities. Finally, this spending will include the purchase of a 10 ton public use crane, a priority of the Port and Commerce Advisory Board, as pointed out by Council Member Casagranda.

Harbormaster Norm Regis stood at the podium and addressed Council Member questions and concerns in regards to this resolution. Regis explained that there is a “lot of work to do administratively” with regards to the 10 ton lift. He and his staff are in the process of working out a process for the public to rent the lift. It will involve taking an online course, followed by hands-on training, at which point individuals will receive personalized electronic cards that will allow them to check out the lift, getting charged for their usage time. This process has successfully been in use by the City of Homer.

The evening’s two hour meeting wound down with the scheduling of upcoming budget and other work sessions and Council Members giving their closing comments. Council Members reiterated their appreciation for Knik Construction workers, who have been doing the paving work around town this summer. They are continuing work around the schools, and when all finished with the paving process will paint in the yellow and white lines. Council Member Casagranda encouraged Alaskans to register to vote, as the deadline of September 1st to register with the City Clerk is fast approaching. Donna Glenz was given appreciation for her many years spent serving as the City Planner and condolences were given to the Seavey family, for the recent loss of Shirley Seavey.

City Council meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month. The next City Council meeting will be held on September 11th at 7pm in the City Council Chambers at Seward’s City Hall.

City Council Chambers are located in Seward’s City Hall, at the corner of Fifth and Adams. Photo: Kelley Lane.

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