Water Agreement With Kachemak City Gets Another Look

Ariel Van Cleave

     The cities of Homer and Kachemak City have started hammering out a new agreement for the use of Homer’s wastewater utility. This is the first time the agreement has been updated since it was initially adopted more than 20 years ago.

     After the City of Homer changed its rate structure for its water and sewer customers, residents of Kachemak City saw a pretty big increase in their monthly bills. 

     “We’ve gone from, I believe it was $62 to $94,” Kachemak City Mayor Phil Morris said.

     Homer’s new rate structure is based on gallons. Morris said his village has been charged an average user rate of about 3,500 gallons per month. That’s only based on estimate from many years ago because homes in Kachemak City are not metered individually.

     During Monday night’s City Council worksession, Morris explained his government did its own study and found the per-month use is much less than that.  

     “We actually contacted Moore & Moore Services… we only have a sample size of 55 houses out of 132. Those are the only houses that they service that do not collect water off the roof or well water… in addition to whatever Moore & Moore brings them. Of those 55 houses, the average usage was 1,858 gallons,” Morris said.

     But he said if you include Bear Creek Winery’s wastewater use, which is around 9,000 gallons a month, the village-wide average is close to 2,000 gallons. He said that isn’t everyone in town, but it’s a good representation. And Morris said he’s willing to split the difference between what Homer uses as a rate and what he found in his own study.

     “We would like to settle on 2,500 gallons, which hopefully you guys will agree is a more reasonable number. That would cut our costs about $10 or $12… and that would bring it down to something closer to where we’re at,” he said.

     City Manager Walt Wrede said lowering it to that amount would mean a roughly $40,000 loss for the utility. City Council Member Francie Roberts said she’d prefer to have a more concrete number for what is being used in Kachemak City. She suggested meters might be the best way to go.

     “One of the things we do with metering for city residents, they must get a metering system to be able to sign up to our water and sewer system. So in our relationship with Kachemak City, we haven’t required that. We’ve done this kind of vague, touchy-feely, we think that’s how many gallons of water comes into the system,” she said.

     Roberts said placing one or two meters in specific locations would mean Kachemak City could divvy up the charges. That way it’s in their hands and not Homer’s. Though some pointed out the meters might not be accurate enough, so installing them might not be worth it. 

     Council Member Beau Burgess said there’s a bigger question about the relationship between the two cities. He wanted to clarify that before moving forward with a solid agreement.

     “My feeling is, if you guys want to move forward with clarifying our relationship and what works for you guys long term. Do we want to be customer-provider relationship? Do we want to be two mutual investors in a system who pay proportionally to maintain and improve that system? How do we define those terms? Really have it spelled out and answer those questions. Basically we’ve aired on the side of caution for the sake of the users of Homer…. I don’t feel like we can switch much from that until we can present something to another user on the system that says hey, this is fair and equitable for everybody,” Burgess said.

     Morris mentioned there would be a benefit to both towns if Kachemak City had a seat at the table.  

     “If there’s two different cities working together on a project, it’s more likely that collectively we can get a bigger piece of the pie,” he said. 

     Homer officials plan to investigate the two meter idea to get a better concept of usage and Council Member Bryan Zak suggested lowering the estimated rate for Kachemak City customers to three-thousand gallons for the short term. Nothing has been approved at this point and both governments plan to continue the conversation about an updated agreement.