The Homer City Council appeared to be headed toward a final vote on a plan to fundamentally change the city’s water and sewer rate structure. But Homerites who have been watching the controversial issue will have to wait another month for a resolution.
After Monday night’s final vote, a months-long effort to overhaul the City of Homer’s water and sewer rate structure appeared to be – dead in the water. Despite the vote being 3 to 2 in favor of the plan, the absence of council member James Dolma meant no possibility of a necessary fourth “yes” vote. So the plan failed.
That is until council member David Lewis, who voted against the plan along with council member Bryan Zak, called to reconsider the vote – that means the council will take one more crack at it at its next meeting July 22nd.
Anytime the city council has tackled the prickly issue of water and sewer rates, there is always a lively discussion. This time around, the chief dissenter was Lands End Resort, one of the city’s largest private water users.
"It's really nothing more than an anti-business policy," said Josh Garvey, chief financial officer for Lands End. "It's trying to masquerade as something that's fair and equitable but it's really just a way of taking money from the business community and redistributing to to over-inflated budgets, wages and other costs of the city government."
Garvey charged that the new rate structure could force Lands End to lay off as many as 10 seasonal workers, if it’s put into place.
Lands End CEO Mike Dye suggested that the city council should have hired a private contractor to analyze data and come up with a new water and sewer rate plan, instead of forming an in-house task force to do the job.
Dye and Garvey testified before the council Monday, echoing a long-standing community concern that Homer is becoming a place where families – especially young families – just cannot afford to live.
"Whenever we're talking about sewer and water, Lands End is never happy," said council member Barbara Howard, who voted to approve the new rate plan, which proponents say is a much fairer system than the one in place today.
The goal, according to Homer mayor and task force member Beth Wythe, is for the system to pay for itself. She says the new rate structure should be easier to use and should be easier for customers to understand.
Under the plan, most users will pay a water rate of $0.011 per gallon. When that rate is combined with an $18-dollar “Metered Service Fee,” Wythe says most average residential customers would actually see a small reduction in their monthly bills.
Wythe took issue with statements made by Garvey and Dye. She said the water and sewer task force did the best it could to come up with an equitable system and that all of the city council members have the city’s best financial interests at heart.
The Homer City Council will take another look at the subject of water and sewer rates at its next meeting July 22nd. If the new plan is approved, it’s not likely to go into effect until January 1st.