With less than two months to go for property owners to object to the proposed Homer Natural Gas Special Assessment District, so far, objections have been light. As of this week, of the 3,855 lots in the assessment district, the city clerk’s office has received objections from owners of 110 parcels. Objections must be received by the clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Jan. 25.
Owners of each lot get a vote in the process. Property owners who own multiple lots get multiple chances to object. For example, the objections received so far come from 95 owners, but count as 110, because some are from multiple parcel owners.
If approved, the natural gas special assessment district would bill property owners up to $12.7 million to build out 73 miles of a natural gas distribution line to the entire city of Homer. Some lots, such as conservation lands or lots not on dedicated streets or rights of way, are exempt from the assessment district. The assessment per lot is $3,283.
Property owners can pay about $405 a year over 10 years with interest. They have to pay the assessment whether or not they choose to connect to natural gas.
For the special assessment district to fail, more than 50 percent of the 3,855 lots must object, or 1,928 lots. The city sent out notices on Nov. 1 by certified mail to 3,272 property owners. Letters were sent out according to how property owners are listed on the official assessment roll, said Katie Koester, the city community and economic development coordinator.
For example, a lot co-owned by six people would get notices sent to all six co-owners, and all six would have to return objection forms for an objection to count, Koester said. People confused about the process can call Koester at 435-3198.
One concern people have about the assessment district is if low-income seniors can get a deferred assessment, Koester said. For water and sewer and other assessment districts, the city has allowed deferred assessments, with the assessment — and interest — paid when the property is sold or transferred. The natural gas line is different, because Enstar Natural Gas — and not the city will own the gas line.
At the Nov. 26 Homer City Council meeting, City Manager Walt Wrede discussed the issue of deferred assessments with the council.
“The ordinance allows it,” Wrede said of the code creating special assessment districts. “The council would have to make decisions on each case, but the council would also have to identify the money to pay for those deferments.”
Council member Barbara Howard said she had concerns about giving some seniors deferred assessments.
“We’re going to be a retirement town where everything is exempt,” she said. “How are we going to pay for that?”
Resident seniors age 65 or older already get a homeowner’s exemption on property taxes of the first $300,000 of assessed property value, and all resident homeowners get a $20,000 exemption. The property tax exemption does not apply to assessments.
As a topic, the natural gas special assessment district has been put on the council agenda through January. Concerned property owners can speak on the issue at the start of each meeting during the “comments on matters on the agenda” period of the meeting. On Jan. 14 and Jan. 28, public hearings will be held on the proposed ordinance creating the natural gas special assessment district. The council will consider the issue of deferred assessments at the Dec. 10 council meeting.
“If people are really concerned that there be a deferred assessment option, they need to make their voices heard at that meeting,” Koester said.
Koester acknowledged that some property owners might not have budgeted for the natural gas improvements. The assessment isn’t paid until service is provided, probably in 2015, depending on where people live, so there is some time to plan and budget.
Another issue raised by citizens is availability of natural gas to the Enstar service area, Koester said.
“People are concerned and want some answers about the supply issue,” she said.
The city has asked Enstar to hold public meetings in January to address the supply issue and other concerns.
The city has set up a website at cityofhomer-ak.gov/natural gas with information on the natural gas special assessment district. Koester urged property owners still undecided about how to reply to get information and answers now.
“We don’t want January to come and people to go, ‘Wait a minute, this just snuck up on me,’” she said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.