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Kenai takes stand: City council weighs in on water, retirement regulations

Posted: April 11, 2011 - 9:45am

Kenai's City Council on Wednesday took a stance on state and federal regulations that could affect the city.

Resolutions supporting two efforts in the Alaska Legislature were brought forth by city administration and unanimously supported by the council, after some modifications.

The legislation the council supported is a house joint resolution on regulating drinking water and wastewater treatment and a senate bill dealing with the Public Employees Retirement System.

The federal government gave states control over water regulations years ago, but a January 2011 executive order has some in Alaska concerned that such primacy was ending. The house resolution shows Alaska's support for maintaining such local control, said City Manager Rick Koch.

In response to a question from councilman Joe Moore, Koch said he thought the resolution would pass through Alaska's house of representatives, but he didn't know how much of an impact it would have.

"I don't have a crystal ball to say our resolution companioned with the state is going to make any difference," he said. "I hope so."

The council opted to strike the final clause from its resolution before passing it at councilman Ryan Marquis' suggestion. Marquis said he hadn't seen new resolutions come from the January order yet, but that he didn't want to see federal and state regulations getting tangled up and becoming difficult for communities.

"I'm afraid that leaving that in there is me saying there is over regulation," Marquis said.

Moore said he saw the clause as preventing over-regulation from happening, but was one of only two members who voted to leave it in.

"We're trying to get out in front of this," he said.

Soldotna City Manager Larry Semmens testified during public comment about the bill dealing with PERS.

Semmens said that he helped draft the requirements now in question, thinking they would protect municipalities from shouldering an unfair burden if other municipalities reduced their employees, and thus, contributions to the retirement system. But it hasn't worked out as intended.

"It's the small municipalities that this bill is hitting," he said.

The termination studies have had the unexpected effect of penalizing small municipalities unfairly, he said.

"I think it's a problem that has to be fixed," he said.

Koch told the council that he agreed with Semmens.

"The consequences of this have been terrible," he said.

Both said that other safeguards, such as a salary floor, help prevent the burdens the requirements originally were intended to address.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.

 

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