by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
Monday’s City Council meeting and the work session that preceded it focused on developing legislative priority lists for the State of Alaska and the City of Seward. The state priority list will be used when requesting funds from the State of Alaska for capital projects in the Seward area. The city priority list will be used to focus future direction by the council, both in terms of funding from the city budget and grant writing. The work session included 90 minutes of discussion on topics ranging from the recent replacement of underground power lines in the Camelot subdivision to plans and funding for relocating the animal shelter.
The Camelot lines required replacing due to unexpected decomposition in Seward’s especially wet and cold climate. These lines were laid in the 1970s, using a power line known as “concentric neutral,” which uses wire mesh as its grounding. The grounding has decomposed, which creates a public safety threat because “the neutral is gone,” according to Electric Utility Manager John Foutz. Foutz also reported that the industry standard for “line loss” of electricity is usually 8-10%, but that Seward’s loss was 12% last year. Foutz recommended an addition to the city priority list of updating the line capacity from Lawing Substation (near milepost 23 / Crown Point) to Fort Raymond Substation (1 mile north of city limits) from 69 to 115 kilovolts. This update would allow for further development within the Seward area. City Manager Ron Long clarified that there is no concern about Seward’s capacity to provide power to its current and future residents, but that substantial economic growth could benefit from this upgrade.
The long awaited and discussed Seward animal shelter was reassigned a place on the city priority list. Council members wished to add language that would deed city land to the project when the 1 million dollars in funds became available or were appropriated. The current animal shelter is located in downtown Seward, in a crowded building that underwent improvements in the summer of 2017. The discussion of relocating the shelter out of the downtown corridor has been discussed for a decade. During the course of the regular council meeting, the language “the City will provide a match of land” was added to the priority list. All council members voted yes to include this addition.
The regularly scheduled second-Monday of the month Seward City Council meeting convened promptly at 7pm, after only a 5 minute break between the work session and regular meeting. Police Chief Clemons led the pledge of allegiance. All council members and the city administration were present. Citizen and City Planner Jackie Wilde spoke on the need for food donations to the “He Will Provide” food pantry. “Imagine an empty pantry, and relying on the food bank,” she said, encouraging Sewardites to donate funds and food by calling Valerie Rose at 907.224.7671. Citizen Carol Griswold referred to last month’s council meeting discussion concerning whether and how the Seward community is a family in regards to city personnel as well as community issues. “Instead, let’s focus on being professionals,” she said, and read an article entitled “Ten Rules to Professional Ethics in the Workplace.” Karin Sturdy, Director of Parks and Recreation, related an incident of talking with a young man who expressed discouragement. She sought to counter the negative comments that the young man had been hearing by saying,“I’m here to talk about what Parks and Rec is doing or involved in doing.”
Council Member Casagranda added the scheduling of a work session to discuss the city’s grievance process to the agenda. Kenn Carpenter, Seward’s Borough Assembly representative, reported that the borough-wide bed tax will be discussed at the March 6th meeting. Jim Hunt’s City Manager report noted that due to state budget cuts, local municipalities will now be responsible for an additional $10,000 to send their police officers to the academy. In the past, the state paid these costs. Council Member Keil asked about the $68,000 rebate that Seward will receive from Chugach Electric. “How much would it be to give it back to customers?” she said. Mayor Squires inquired about putting the funds toward paying the fuel surcharge fees that appear on each customer’s monthly bill. [Paying]“The surcharge is always a sore thing,” he said. Council Member Towsley requested an update on Hunt’s recent travel expenses. Discussion ensued and it was decided that the matter will be further discussed at the January Council meeting.
Resolution 2017-080 is a listing and explanation of the city’s 2018 legislative priorities. Included in this list is $2.5 million for “design, engineering and construction to protect the Lowell Point easement road from further coastal erosion.” Council noted that the high tide and storm surge of Monday, December 4th has caused even more need for work on Lowell Point Road. Assistant City Manager Ron Long noted that in the summer it is the second highest used road in the area, after the Seward Highway. Additionally, electrical lines are embedded in the roadway and Seward’s wastewater treatment lagoon is located at Lowell Point. Council Member Keil requested the addition of $200,000 to fund design and engineering for an indoor ice skating rink. She explained that this was in response to a recent community event. At the event, a covered ice rink was chosen as a long term project to improve community wellness. This amendment to the resolution passed, with Council Members Slate and Horn voting no. Council Member Casagranda requested the addition of a sixth priority under the category “port, harbor and industrial area” to fund the purchase of a 5 ton crane to be added to I dock. “This room was packed full when the crane was discussed,” she said. Council Member Towsley agreed, saying “I’m supportive because I worked with PACAB at the time of the [crane discussion] and it’d be good for fishermen.” This amendment passed, as did the revised resolution.
Resolution 2017-081 is a list of legislative priorities to be sent to the State of Alaska. Council Member Casagranda made an amendment to strike priority A4, a “feasibility analyses considering pipeline or multi-modal delivery methods of making natural gas available to communities not currently along a pipeline corridor.” City Manager Hunt responded that “[striking priority A4] would be telling the state that we don’t want natural gas.” Assistant City Manager Long said “heating with natural gas would be way cheaper than diesel. We are one of those places that’s probably never going to get a pipeline.” Council Member McClure said a “large portion of our borough is shifting towards natural gas.” Council Member Keil said “people are clamoring for cheaper energy.” Mayor Squires responded to previous concerns about safety issues related to a natural gas pipe delivery system. “[Natural gas] won’t be a city utility as long as I’m here,” he said. The discussion ended with a vote, during which all Council Members voted no on striking natural gas from the priority list. “I’m glad to have had the discussion,” said Casagranda. The priority list was voted on and approved to be sent to the state.
Resolutions 2017-086 and 2017-087 are contracts with lobbying firms who represent the interests of Seward to state and federal legislators. Resolution 086 pays $92,000 for lobbying services at the federal level. Council Member Casagranda asked whether this is a good use of funds when fiscal times are tight. Assistant City Manager Ron Long responded by explaining that Seward has received 90 million over the past 4 years in state and federal grants. He went on to explain that this fall, when Snow River flooded, Seward was able to “secure 1.9 million in three weeks’ time because of having someone knowledgeable in place there.” These funds were spent on protecting electrical infrastructure from flood damage. Mayor Squires said “I’d really like to see the Coast Guard [fast response cutter] boats here and they’re helping with that.” The Council Members all approved the resolution. Resolution 087 pays a firm for state lobbying services. The amount was discussed in relation to previous contracts, and whether the resolution represented a change in funds being paid. The confusion stemmed in part from the $12,000 contribution that the Alaska Sea Life Center pays towards the contract. The City Administration will clarify this matter and bring the resolution back towards Council at the January 8th meeting.
Resolution 2017-090 adopted the Historic Preservation Plan by a unanimous vote of council. “It’s a good read,” said McClure. The schedule for the upcoming evaluations for city manager and city attorney were confirmed and rearranged, in order to better accommodate personnel needs. The city attorney will now be evaluated in January and city manager in February. Council members Keil and McClure will receive and tabulate the 4 different evaluation forms. The December 26th council meeting was cancelled. Plans for Seward’s 50 year anniversary with Sister City Obihiro, Japan were discussed. Seward’s gift to Obihiro will be a metal sculpture commissioned of a local artist who uses metal affected by the 1964 earthquake and tsunami. Obihiro will send a delegation to Seward in the summer, a visit that will be celebrated with a fishing trip followed by a cooking challenge. Seward will send a delegation to Obihiro for their October wine and beef festival. “That’d be the most fun,” said Keil.
Earlier in the meeting Council Member Keil had asked for an additional agenda item to discuss transparency. Keil addressed this topic by explaining that the following day the Council would be having a work session on potential unionization of city employees. Keil volunteered her own family and personal history with unions and invited the other council members to do so as well. Item 7 under new business scheduled a work session to discuss the city’s grievance process for employees. It will take place at 5:30pm preceding the January 22nd Council meeting.
Closing Council comments included an encouragement by Slater to drive safe, saying, “My wife hit a moose today.” Congratulations were given to Cliff Krug on his appointment to the Historic Preservation Commission. Council Member Keil said “I’m in agreement that Seward’s a great place to live. When struggling, reach out because people do care.” Council Member McClure thanked the community for their support of the Community Choir concert held the week prior. Mayor Squires said that there’s a “hole in Seward’s recreation for 18-21 year olds,” and asked “how can we bring them in?” Citizen Carol Griswold congratulated council on an “excellent work session and meeting.” She thanked Council Member Casagranda for pulling the legislative priorities off of the consent agenda of the previous Council meeting, because it allowed them to be discussed. Griswold thanked the city’s electric department for the fact that power has stayed on through the recent storms. Assistant City Manager Ron Long concurred that council “did good work tonight.”
The next Seward City Council meeting will be held on Monday, January 8th at 7pm in City Council Chambers in Seward’s City Hall, 410 Adams Street. The full Council meeting can be listened to through the following link: https://www.cityofseward.us/index.aspx?NID=912