Business, City of Seward, Council, Economics, Featured

City Council: Electric Rates, Growth at SMIC & City Clerk Resignation

Norm Regis, Seward’s Harbormaster, answers Council questions regarding purchase of a new loader for Seward Marine Industrial Center. Photo: Kelley Lane

City Council enjoyed a full house on the evening of Monday, August 14th, with all Council Members and City Administration present as well as full seats in the audience. Although the clouds hung heavy overhead, the rain held off and the beauty of Seward’s downtown was enjoyed by those attending as they arrived to City Hall. Stephanie Wright, of Seward, spoke during citizen comments requesting clarification of the City’s social media policy, particularly with regards to the Seward Recreation Facebook page. Her questions included: “Can anything be deleted? Who decides what can be deleted? How is it determined who will be blocked from the site?” Sharyl Seese, also of Seward, queried about the reasons for the recent departure of City employees. “We have lost many valuable and experienced employees.”

Norm Regis, Seward’s Harbormaster reported that the breakwater at Seward Marine Industrial Center is nearing completion. The many layers of rock have all been laid and currently Hamilton Construction is “surveying for missed spots.” They have placed all of the navigational aids.

Discussion about Seward’s electric rates was raised by Council with Electric Department Manager John Foutz answering questions. Electric users in the area will perhaps be familiar with the seasonal rates that have been in effect since January 1st, 2016. This rate structure was approved for a two year period and will remain in place through December of this year. This fall’s City budget discussions will involve determining the coming two years’ rate structure. Foutz reminded those present that the seasonal rate pay structure was intended to “help year round ratepayers” by lowering the cost of units by 25% in the winter half of the year, October – March. Foutz said “the net impact [to revenue collected] was supposed to be zero.” It is unknown, at this point, whether that has been the case. Assistant City Manager Ron Long suggested that the City is researching the potential to increase electric base charges and lower energy charges, which “could help create more stable power bills for customers.”

One thing that has impacted overall revenue to the City electric department has been an overall decrease in usage. At this point, it’s not known why this decrease has occurred. Long suggested that it is likely that the decrease has largely been due to a decrease in industrial usage, in particular, the coal facility, which is currently out of operation. Another potential decrease could be due to individual customers using less energy, as a result of energy efficiency improvements. While efficiency is generally a positive thing, it does impact the amount of revenue collected by the electric department, one reason why Long suggested looking into a change in how electric bills are determined. “Our budget infrastructure is built on people buying units” said Long.

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Seward’s City Hall on a cool Monday evening, site of City Council Chambers. Photo: Kelley Lane

Resolution 2017-042 and 2017-043 both concern a new business, Exit Marine, that hopes to operate out of SMIC. Resolution 042 allows for a one year lease with the company, and 043 creates a new lot within the SMIC Zoning District. According to Harbormaster Norm Regis “this is a really motivated company,” and part of a growing industry at SMIC. Exit Marine plans to purchase a trailer with which to carry boats ashore, place them on this lot, and then build a house around the boats in which to perform maintenance on vessels. The houses will be taken down within 6 months time. The proposed lot has a trapezoidal shape, in order to avoid a pre-existing drainage ditch. New resident Laura Schneider spoke on behalf of the marine industry at SMIC “my husband and I moved here in April with the goal of working in this industry.” Council Member Squires asked about Item 14 of the Lease Agreement, which states “the use, keeping, storage, or disposal of hazardous materials on the premises is prohibited.” City Attorney Will Earnhart said that “the purpose of this statement is that the yard not become long-term storage yard or disposal site of these materials.” The resolutions both passed unanimously, and the “New Lot, Known as Lot 4” will proceed to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for final approval.

Resolution 2017-044 publicly announced the resignation of City Clerk Joanna Kinney, after more than a decade of service to the City. Kinney will continue in her position for the contractual 60 days, with her last day being October 9th. Discussion of Council concerned determining how to go about implementing the hiring process, including whether and how to advertise the position, how long to keep open the call for applicants and when to have an executive session to finalize interview questions. The discussion and a question by Council Member Keil brought to light the fact that City Code requires that most positions be advertised in-house for two weeks prior to opening them to the general public, but that the Clerk position is exempt from this requirement. Deputy City Clerk Brenda Ballou responded to discussion about advertising the position and whether she will apply for it by saying “I think you should advertise the position and handle everything above board.” It was decided by Council to advertise the position in a variety of publications for 3 weeks, with an application deadline of September 5th. Council Member McClure clarified that the Deputy position gets filled by the City Clerk.  

Harbormaster Norm Regis, again, was called to the podium to answer questions relating to Resolution 2017-046, which authorizes the purchase of a L70 Loader for $160,600 to be used at SMIC. According to Regis and Long, in the past, SMIC has received its equipment from the Seward Harbor, and has needed to perform costly repairs in order to keep the used equipment functioning. This past year’s spring snow caused “a catastrophic failure” to the previous loader, which would require $66,157.10 in order to be repaired. Council Member Squires asked about the length of warranty that would be included in the new loader sale amount, and learned that it would include one year. An additional 4 year warranty for the price of $4,000 will be purchased by Regis utilizing a purchase order through the City Manager’s office.

City Council concluded with each Council Member getting a chance to give closing comments. Many spoke of their appreciation for Joanna Kinney’s service to the City. Council Member Casagranda thanked Stephanie and Sharyl for “speaking into uncomfortable areas.” Mayor Bardarson thanked the Alaska Railroad and Port Manager Christy Terry for painting the railroad’s round house that is visible from the Seward Highway. Council Member Slater said it was “great to see the Derby packed on Saturday” and that the “town’s still booming.” Closing Citizen Comments saw Harbormaster Norm Regis at the podium one final time to announce that the tagged silver salmon Derby fish that wins a Chevy truck had just been caught and weighed at the Derby booth. Following Robert’s Rules of Order, the meeting was adjourned with a motion, a second and a click of the gavel by Mayor Bardarson. The next meeting will be held on Monday, August 28th (Seward Founder’s Day) at 7pm, preceded by a Work Session at 5:30pm.

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