On Monday evening, City Council met for its final time in its current personnel configuration. The October 3rd election resulted in two new council members: Suzanne Towsley and Jeremy Horn. Current Council Member David Squires will transition to the position of City Mayor. The evening’s meeting had nearly full attendance of Council Members and City Administration. Council Member Deborah Altermatt, who will be transitioning off of Council, was not in attendance due to previous family commitments. She sent a letter of thanks for her time getting to serve the community of Seward, which was read by Mayor Bardarson. The gallery area was full of citizens, many of whom spoke during both opening and closing citizen comments. Johanna Kinney acted in her role as City Clerk for the final time. Kinney has completed her work contract and passed the role of acting City Clerk to former Deputy City Clerk Brenda Ballou. Ballou is slated to become the official City Clerk in the coming weeks.
At 6:30 pm, a reception was held to honor the contributions of Mayor Jean Bardarson and City Clerk Johanna Kinney. The City provided a cake with the faces of both women displayed in its icing, courtesy of Safeway baker Claire, and much gratitude was exchanged between the citizens of Seward and the public servants. The reception transitioned to the 4th Monday of the month City Council meeting with Police Chief Tom Clemons leading those gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance.
All regular meetings begin with agenda time set aside for Citizen Comments, a time in which anyone can speak to the audience and Council on any topic. There have been plenty of meetings during which few if any citizens wish to speak publicly, but this meeting was one of the occasions on which a plentitude signed up to speak, a total of nine persons. There were concerns about the budget. Two of the City’s janitorial staff are slated to lose their jobs due to budget cuts. Matt Nelson spoke on his own behalf, as did his brother Dave Nelson, both of whom do janitorial work for the City. Additionally, defeated mayoral candidate Tim McDonald spoke of his concerns about the City budget and particularly about the amount spent in the Parks and Recreation department. Mike Insalaco announced that the City’s Energy Fair will be held on Friday and Saturday of this week, at AVTEC’s 4th Avenue facility. This year’s fair will include a competition by local students for scholarship funds. Local residents Maya Moriarty and Skip Rierson spoke of their appreciation for Mayor Jean Bardarson’s service.
Tim Dillon of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District gave an update on some aspects of the local economy. He reported that the numbers from 2015 fish landings placed Seward at #12 nationally in terms of total fish poundage (12.5 million) processed through our port and processing facilities for a total value of 9 million dollars. 13 new homes were constructed in the Seward area in 2016, with our median home value of $164,000 and a total of 1109 total housing units. Dillon announced that his office will be hosting an Industry Outlook Forum at the Soldotna Regional Sports Center on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018.
The next topic was the property at 402 Madison Street, which has been in City of Seward possession since 2013. It was obtained through foreclosure due to non-payment of property taxes. In the case of 402 Madison, the previous occupant died in 2010, and no family members or heirs wished to claim the property. The adjoining property owner, William Mans, wished to purchase the lot, and a sole-source agreement was made with him. This decision was reached because at that time, in 2013, the 50 x 60 foot property was not buildable, due to minimum lot size requirements. Since then, Mans has not completed necessary efforts to purchase the lot and the city paid to clear the derelict house, a 1935 single room cabin in bad disrepair. The house was demolished due to it being deemed a public safety issue. Another change in circumstance affecting the property was a January 2017 change to city code. This change allows for a minimum lot size of 3,000 square feet. 402 Madison meets this new requirement, and as such, is buildable. City Council was considering a change from being a sole-source sale to a closed-bid auction. The change would allow anyone wishing to submit a bid on the property to do so, with a minimum required bid of $36,700.
City Council debated the proposed change. William Mans was in attendance. Mr. Mans expressed concerns about the fact that his sewer line passes underneath the adjoining property. The City clarified that his sewer line could not legally be destroyed by the new owners of the property. Should they wish to relocate the sewer line off of his property, they would be financially responsible for doing so. In the coming two weeks, the City of Seward will be conducting a test to determine where the sewer line lies. According to Assistant City Manager Ron Long, this will allow bidders to accurately estimate the costs of relocating Mr. Mans’ sewer line prior to placing a bid on the property. Non-Code Ordinance 2017–003 passed, with a no vote by Council Member Casagranda, who wished to get further information before she would vote affirmatively. The change will go into effect in 10 days time, with the auction announced in all of the local newspapers after October 19th. Sealed bids will be required to contain 20% of the bid price within them, in the form of check or money order. The highest bidder will be alerted and given a payment time period for paying the remaining 80%. Should they fail to do so, the option to purchase will continue to the second place bidder.
The Alaska Sea Life Center’s (ASLC) electric rates were the next topic of discussion. The ASLC facilities were constructed and are owned by the City of Seward. The facilities are operated by the Seward Association for the Advancement of Marine Sciences (SAAMS). The City of Seward previously placed the ASLC within the large industrial rate class, which has since been discontinued. The other users in their usage level (above 750 Kwh) were transitioned to the large general service rate class. This transition will mean a much higher monthly bill for ASLC, something they say would cause them hardship and possibly force them to close their doors. According to Resolution 2017-055, the City of Seward benefits from ASLC in terms of visitor numbers and their associated spending as well as due to their employment of year-round Seward residents. Representatives of ASLC were present at council, including Tara Riemer, President and CEO and Special Projects Director Darryl Schaefermeyer. The resulting agreement is to raise ASLC rates gradually over the next three years, effective January 1, 2018. In 2018 their demand rate will be $21.09 and by 2020 it will reach $22.36 per kWh. Their minimum monthly usage will be set at 750 kWh.
Council Member closing comments focused on gratitude for the service of City Clerk Johanna Kinney and Mayor Bardarson, as well as congratulations to the newly elected Council Members and Mayor. The City Manager’s report had included a note that the city-wide paving project by Knik Construction was nearly complete, with final lines being painted around town and finishing touches being done. The report expressed gratitude for the smooth surface and the efficiency with which the project was completed, all in one season. Council Member Casagranda thanked those who chose to speak publicly about their concerns for the community of Seward. “It takes courage to get up there,” she said.
Citizen comments followed, with Carol Griswold, a City resident, expressing concerns about Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plan for the Seward airport. She noted that she is a birder and expressed safety concerns for airplanes due to the large waterfowl population that uses the Nash Road pond during their migrations and at other times of the year. The DOT plan would change the current direction of the airstrip, routing air traffic over the pond. She encouraged City Council and Sewardites to ask DOT to rethink their plan.
City Council adjourned at 9:40pm, with a small crowd still present. Acting City Clerk Brenda Ballou and departing City Clerk Johanna Kinney tidied the room as Council Members and the public launched into conversations and slowly dispersed. The full meeting will be available for listening (http://www.cityofseward.us/index.aspx?NID=912) through the City’s archive of past meetings within a few days. The next City Council meeting will be held on Monday, October 23rd at 7 pm in City Council Chambers. The newly elected members will be sworn in at that time.