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Kenai council passes budget, amends fees

Posted: June 8, 2012 - 8:44am

Kenai residents won't see their property taxes go up next year, but they will have to pay more to camp while the city's dipnet fishery is open and they'll also see a jump in their water and sewer rates.

While the city's annual budget for the upcoming year passed unanimously, an ordinance amending the rates, charges and fees in that budget divided the council as they discussed the merits of raising the rates at the dipnet fishery.

Last year, parking and camping on the North and South beaches cost $15 per 12-hour period during the personal use fishery, it was suggested that those fees be increased to $20 per 12-hour period.

Council member Terry Bookey said he opposed the raise in rates as he didn't feel Kenai residents should have to pay more for infrastructure that they'd already financed.

"If this means that users from outside the city also don't see an increased fee than so be it," he said.

Bookey proposed that rates for parking remain at the same level while rates for camping increased.

This was met with discussion from several members who asked city manager Rick Koch where most of the fee revenue came from between the two items.

"The bulk of the fees that we collect come from parking," Koch said. "Maybe it's a 75-25 split. The net effect of removing it, based on a 75-25 split ... by eliminating the increase in parking is the city would forgo $35,000 of revenue in order to not impact city of Kenai residents with $1,400 of fees," Koch said. "That's a pretty dynamic comparison."

Koch based his numbers off of a May 29 memo from Terry Eubank, the city's finance director.

According to the memo the total 2011 revenue from both beaches was $237,750. Additional revenue from increased fees for both beaches would add up to another $47,550.

The city estimated 3 percent of fishery participants are city residents so their added contribution would be $1,420, and 4 percent of the participants are borough residents, so their added contribution would be $1,910, according to the memo.

Council member Brian Gabriel followed Koch's remarks about the fee split saying he opposed any changes in the rate increases.

"I just feel like we provide this fishery which is essentially a statewide fishery. It costs a lot of money. It's an impact to the citizens of this city. A lot of impact to even people who don't utilize that fishery, people that just want to use the beach," Gabriel said. "Providing additional revenue to benefit the city as a whole I think is appropriate here."

Koch said if there was a way to charge only people who came into the city from out of town, the city would be happy to do that.

Bookey said last year the council approved a fee increase but then was asked to revert it's decision.

"So one of the reasons that I don't want to increase is that I'm reluctant to follow down that path and the same thing happen again," Bookey said. "I would rather come back next year, if everything works out, and say this is where our revenues and expenditures worked out based on disposal of the waste, this is where we need to be to break even."

Bookey said he thought the fishery could handle a season without a jump in revenues.

"Each year as we look at our dipnet report we have sufficient revenues over expenditures to use a lot money from this fishery to buy additional capital projects and resources to support the fishery," Bookey said. "I don't believe that by keeping this rate at $15 for residents that we're going to see a deficit for our revenues over expenditures. I think we won't be able to buy as much stuff at the end of the season with expenditures over revenues but I don't think we're going into the hole."

Bookey's amendment passed, so the parking fees will remain the same in the coming season.

Virginia Shook, of Kenai, spoke to the council briefly about a sewer and water rate increase being a hardship for her.

"My husband and I are both retired," she said. "We live on a fixed income and our income never increases. So for us, any increase in any of our utilities is a hardship and especially with gas prices and the cost of food."

Shook said while she uses city water to bathe and wash her clothing, she didn't consume it.

"Because of the arsenic levels, for the past 10 years we've been buying bottled water to drink," she said.

After thanking the council, Shook walked out of the chambers.

She held up a piece of paper she said she got on Monday notifying her of the potential rate increase and pointed to a line about a study showing that the city needed to increase its prices.

"I've never seen that study. No notice was given to the public that we could come read the study," she said.

According to Resolution 2012-20 the city commissioned a water and sewer rate study in 2011 which determined that the current rates are not high enough to support the fund or maintenance and operation.

"This is something that has been necessary for a long time to keep our water and sewer funds solvent," Bookey said. "It was put off once in the past and now we have to deal with it here because of that."

The council also heard from Bradley Hamilton, a student at Kenai Central High School who requested permission and funding to place reflective mile markers along the Kenai River.

Hamilton's request for $1,375 was approved.

He said his request was an extension of his freshman Caring for the Kenai project.

"This is a safety issue," he said. "Emergency responders need a better way to pinpoint the exact location of people that call with emergencies on the river and if people see these signs then there will be the better ability to pinpoint their exact location and possibly save lives," Hamilton said.

Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

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