Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 2:42 PM on Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Council defeat of assessment district shouldn't affect gas line, says Seaton



BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
STAFF WRITER

The failure of the Homer City Council to introduce an ordinance that would have revised how the city of Homer creates special assessment districts shouldn't affect efforts in the Legislature to fund an $8.05 million natural gas line grant, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said Tuesday.

The build-out process is a local decision, he said.

"How the city decides to finance or how large the core area is — those decisions are up to the local folks as far as they want to proceed," Seaton said.

As part of its lobbying efforts on its third try in three years to get funding for a gas transmission line from Anchor Point to Homer, the city had proposed revising special assessment district rules that could make a large build-out of the line easier. The ordinance also would have allowed creating local improvement districts for natural gas service — a necessary change to city code before a natural gas LID can be done.

Gov. Sean Parnell has said he wants to see some "skin in the game" demonstrating local efforts by the city to pay for part of the cost of the line. The council had earlier passed a resolution supporting a $1 per million cubic feet tariff to be paid for by consumers to lower the cost of gas line grant. Enstar would fund $2.5 million of the $10.55 million cost, to be paid for out of the $1 per mcf tariff over 10 years.

The council did introduce on first reading an ordinance that will establish how city rights-of-way can be used for utilities like gas lines. That ordinance goes up for public hearing and second reading at the March 27 meeting. Seaton praised that action.

"They're proceeding along with getting the p's and q's lined up," he said.

In voting down the ordinance, several council members objected to a change in how the council approves special assessment districts. Currently, a supermajority of five out of six votes is required. The ordinance would have changed that to a simple majority of four votes.

"Anytime we go out in the community to ask for an assessment, I think we need a supermajority on that," council member Beth Wythe said.

Council member Kevin Hogan agreed with Wythe.

Council member Barbara Howard voted against it because she felt the whereas clauses referring to the gas line were out of place in a broader ordinance.

"The whereases set the stage for asking what we're going to do," Howard, a former city clerk, said. "Process is terribly important to me."

Howard also said she felt there should be a vote by citizens on if they wanted to pay for the gas line build-out.

"We have not asked the people 'Do you want to tax yourself?'" she said.

For most local improvement districts, the desire to create an assessment district comes from the property owners, she said. "To me, this is going the other way," Howard said.

That was an opinion echoed by HomeRun Oil co-owner Shelly Erickson in an email to the council as well as public testimony. Erickson said she didn't oppose natural gas as long as the company profiting pays its own infrastructure cost and the cost is passed along to customers.

"I think that before the city commits to any financial promoting of this infrastructure there needs to be a vote by the people," Erickson wrote.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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