Story last updated at 3:06 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2002

Seldovia nixes harbor positions
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

City budget constraints have put Seldovia's harbormaster job out in the cold.

The position, which has been responsible for the oversight of the historic moorage for decades, will be scrapped as part of a budget compromise reached by the city council last week.

The financial juggling, according to City Manager Ken Weaver, will allow Seldovia to keep a police officer and clerk on staff while simultaneously terminating the positions of six-year Seldovia Harbormaster Susan Carlough and the two harbor assistants. The city would then add an additional clerical position to help with both police and harbor work.

The move has not been entirely free of controversy. At times, tempers have run hot as people questioned how a traditional commercial fishing and seafaring town can function without somebody managing harbor affairs.

"I'm upset about the decision because I don't think (the council) thought about how this is going to work," Liza Bieri said. "They just didn't think of everything that was at stake."

The city council, facing the end of a three-year federal grant that helped pay for an additional Seldovia cop, found itself debating the idea of raising city taxes or cutting the town's two-man police force in half. Also on the chopping block was the sole police clerk.

The cost for the city to pick up both salaries for the rest of the year would be approximately $40,000, according to Weaver.

However, after debating the matter, the council found both options to be distasteful.

To cover its current payroll, the city would have needed to raise the city tax rate by 2 mills for the current fiscal year and an additional 1 mill for 2004. One mill is the equivalent of $100 on property valued at $100,000

On the one hand were new taxes <> rarely a popular move. On the other hand was the unsettling idea that cuts would have "left the city with one officer with no backup and no clerk," Weaver said.

So, after casting about for an alternative, Weaver said, the council adopted a proposal from Councilman Keith Gain to eliminate the harbormaster position as well as that of both the full-time and the seasonal assistant positions.

With the new budget due to take effect on Monday, the council amended the plan to keep the harbormaster and one assistant on through Sept. 3, in an effort to ease the pain of the transition during the harbor's busiest time.

In a move to give the harbor some coverage, the plan also calls for the Seldovia Police to be headquartered in what is now the harbormaster's office. But that move means an additional expense for the city, down the road.

Weaver said the current harbormaster's office would eventually require an addition, to make room for the police headquarters. The city's holding facilities for prisoners would remain at the former site of Seldovia Police.

"It's just not well thought out," said Bieri, who owns the Linwood Bar with her husband. "Both (services) have to have people. If the police are out on a 911 call and my son falls off a float (in the harbor), am I going to sue the city?"

Carlough declined to comment on the situation.

But enough people were ready to voice their dissatisfaction over the issue that Bieri had to ask Gain to leave her bar on a recent night for fear that a fight was brewing.

Cooler heads have prevailed, Bieri said, and the Linwood is once again just a gathering spot for food

and drink.