Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:45 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Assembly enjoys visit to Homer

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly was in Homer on Tuesday for its once-a-year visit to the southern peninsula. During the day, assembly members toured South Peninsula Hospital, walked on the new Homer High School track, received a progress report on the city's plans to bring natural gas to the area and savored dinner at Fat Olive's.

"It's enjoyable to come down here," said Charlie Pierce, acting as assembly president in the absence of Gary Knopp of Kenai. "There are ... a lot of wonderful people doing wonderful things so we all benefit with quality of life issues."

Among the assembly's actions were:

• Postponement until the assembly's Oct. 11 meeting action on Ordinance 2012-19-25, appropriating $36,832 from the Kachemak Emergency Service Area operating fund balance to change the shared mechanic position between KESA and the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area to a full-time mechanic position for KESA. The postponement came at the request of Mayor Mike Navarre, who said he would meet with the KESA board to discuss how to make the request fit within the service area's budget.

• Enactment of Ordinance 2012-19-27, appropriating $162,444.80 to the Special Assessment Fund for the Anchor View Estates Natural Gas Line Utility Special Assessment District, as well as Resolution 2012-072 to proceed with forming the USAD. Forty-nine parcels will benefit from the gas line; 44 of the 35 required parcel owners signed the petition showing support for the USAD's formation. The estimated project cost is $162,444,80; the per-parcel estimate is $3,315.20. Mayor Navarre said plans allow for construction to proceed this year.

"If not, Enstar (Natural Gas Co.) has agreed to honor the price of this year for next year," said Navarre.

• Introduction of Ordinance 2012-19-31, appropriating $35,000 in interest income from the Spruce Bark Beetle Program to provide for an emergency power generator at the Anchor Point water treatment and distribution plant. A public hearing was set for Oct. 23.

"They need that not just to supply water to the community, but for emergency fire service," said Bill Smith, assembly member from Homer. "Having a standby generator is really a big deal."

• Confirmation of six appointees to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Advisory Planning Commission, including Julie Engebretsen and Joanne Collins for the Anchor Point APC.

Bob Letson, CEO for South Peninsula Hospital, presented the hospital's quarterly report. He was accompanied by Lori Meyer, the hospital's chief financial officer.

Letson listed new hospital providers, staff and equipment: Greg Hough, general surgeon; Sarah Roberts, family practice physician; Cindy Beske, certified nurse midwife; the addition of a new hematology analyzer and a new breast MRI coil; the July 1 opening of Homer Medical Center, formerly Homer Medical Clinic; and Meyer, previously the hospital comptroller.

In a financial snapshot of the hospital, Letson said gross revenue has grown by more than $18 million or 52 percent in five years, operating expenses have increased by $12 million or 45 percent; out patient visits have increased by 14 percent and outpatient surgeries by six percent. Gross revenue over the last fiscal year has seen an increase of 14 percent.

"These are a certainly positive trends," said Navarre, characterizing the hospital's financial picture as "significantly better that in the past."

Dave Brann of the Kachemak Bay Water Trail Steering Committee provided an update on the 125-mile water trail planned to go around the bay from the Spit to Seldovia. Brann has been working with assembly member Smith to draft a resolution showing the assembly's support of the project. Such resolutions have already been forthcoming from the Homer and Seldovia.

"That goes a log way in helping us apply for grants, showing we have a broad base of people who think this is a good idea and are willing to help toward that goal," said Brann.

The project received praise from assembly members, including Hal Smalley of Kenai.

"This is a wonderful project, a big project and I wish you well," Smalley told Brann. "You're absolutely right, water's where it's at."

Speaking on behalf of "many members of the community of Homer and the southern peninsula" Homer High School cross country and track coach Bill Steyer thanked the assembly and Navarre for helping ensure completion of the new HHS track. Ribbon-cutting is scheduled during the homecoming football game Sept. 29, with a community celebration sponsored by the Kachemak Bay Running Club the following day.

"Lastly, I want to put in a plug and encouragement for the assembly and mayor to pursue completion of the multi-facility that the southern peninsula wants and really needs, seeking funding for artificial turf," said Steyer.

Lastly, Homer City Manager Walt Wrede thanked the assembly for supporting the Homer natural gas line project.

"It's been a tough struggle, as you know, with the Legislature for a couple of years. Last year was very tenuous, but your support really went a long way in helping us," said Wrede, adding a special thanks to Navarre "who went to Juneau and put a lot of time and effort in there, really, really pushing this ball forward."

Wrede reported that the trunk line from Anchor Point to Homer is in the design and permitting stage, with construction to begin in the spring and completion by next fall. The city is pursuing a special assessment district to put gas lines through the entire city, "a huge endeavor," said Wrede. "That's about a 70-mile, $12 million project. It's really daunting, but exciting at the same time. On behalf of the mayor, the city council and the community, thank you for your support."

The next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will be in Soldotna on Oct. 9.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.