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July 24 City Council Meeting: Proposed Bed Tax and Council Term Limits, Halibut Tourney Earnings, Meter Update

Inside Council Chambers, left to right: City Manager Jim Hunt, Council Members Altermatt, Casagranda, Mayor Bardarson, Council Members Kiel, Squires, McClure and City Clerk Joanna Kinney. Photo: Kelley Lane.
by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-

Last Monday night, the City Council held its second meeting for the month of July, which take place on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month at 7pm. Police Chief Tom Clemons led the Pledge of Allegiance and the meeting adjourned in a timely fashion.

Cindy Clock gave the Chamber of Commerce Report. Clock reported that the Halibut Tournament earned $25,000 in tournament guide advertising sales, beating out ad sales in this year’s Mount Marathon guide. The Chamber is already gearing up for the Silver Salmon Derby, which will commence on August 12th and is seeking volunteers to staff the ticket sales tables in the Seward Harbor.

The Borough Assembly report, given by Kenn Carpenter, included discussion of Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s proposal of an 8 percent borough wide bed tax, which would be levied on nightly lodging. There will be a public hearing on August 15th to discuss the matter at the borough level. This issue could be on the October ballot, if the borough assembly sends the issue to voters. According to Carpenter, Navarre predicts that the new bed tax would raise an estimated 6 million dollars and help cover the borough’s budget deficit.

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City of Seward utility department manager John Foutz responded to Council Member Squires’ request for an update on the installation of new electric meters. According to Foutz, the upgrade has been delayed until May 2018, and will use the same contract that was negotiated for this year. The proposed timeline for the project is one month’s duration. Until that time, new businesses that hook up to the Seward electricity will be issued new electric meters from the city’s current stock, and then will be upgraded to the remotely-readable meters along with the rest of the city’s users in May 2018.

Resolution 2017-041, to lengthen council member terms to three years was sponsored by City Manager Jim Hunt and presented to City Council by Assistant City Manager Ron Long. The current 2 year terms have been in existence since 1959, when Seward drew up the current version of the town charter. The proposal was debated with back and forth and a striving to understand both the historical reasons for 2 year terms as well as the rationale for transitioning to 3 year terms. “Continuity is important” said Long, explaining that the 2 year terms frequently overlap poorly with the 2 year budget cycle, such that newly elected council members must vote on the budget without having sufficient time to get acquainted with the finer details of its working.

Further discussion centered around having enough community members interested and willing to serve on City Council if terms were extended, as it would increase the level of commitment necessary to run for the office. “We may lose some of those people that we would have been able to cajole onto council” said Council Member Altermatt. On the whiteboard behind the council members there was a detailed chart that demonstrated how the transition would be made from 2 to 3 year terms, which prompted many questions of clarification. “This is just a discussion of whether to put this on the ballot,” said Council Member McClure. Council Member Marianna Kiel volunteered “I don’t plan to run again, so I won’t be running for a 3 year term.” When the discussion drew to a close, a vote was taken, and the resolution passed, with Council Member Casagranda voting no. The resolution will be on the October 3rd Seward ballot.

Summer evenings of long light do not lend themselves to long indoor meetings. The business of the evening having been attended to, council members were given a chance to speak their closing comments. “I am excited as all get out about the paving” said Council Member McClure, a sentiment echoed by Council Member Squires. Council Member Kiel thanked Carl Hughes for volunteering to continue serving on the Port and Commerce Advisory Board. Mayor Jean Bardarson thanked Cindy Ecklund for serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission and gave a welcome to the Japanese exchange students from Obihiro, who will be in Seward the first week of August. Council Member Casagranda sung praises to Harper Harris, this year’s winner of the mini Mount Marathon race, for giving her blue ribbon to a fellow racer. Council Member Kiel was impressed with the athletes in this year’s inaugural Alaskaman race. City Manager Jim Hunt echoed Kiel and reported that Alaskaman will take place in Seward again next year, on Friday, July 20th. Assistant City Manager Ron Long said that the paving project will enter phase 2 and that 29 curbside ramps will be installed in order to move into compliance.

The next City Council meeting will take place in City Hall’s Council Chambers on Monday, August 14th at 7pm.

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