Soldotna City Council members elevated a water and sewer project to priority status during Wednesday’s meeting.
The council also offered Mark Dixson, of Soldotna, a position as city manager, added the city manager’s position back into the state’s Public Employee’s Retirements System (PERS) and accepted several grants to pay for capital projects and parks and recreation improvements.
Larry Semmens, current city manager, said there was about a week of overlap planned between his exit and Dixson’s entrance Oct. 1 but that he planned to leave the city ahead of his Oct. 31 final date.
Semmens, who technically retired last year, continued to work for the city after the council decided to cut the position of city manager from the PERS system and hire him as a contract employee.
At the time, Semmens said the move saved the city money as it was no longer liable for his family’s medical costs, just his.
Dixson, however, wanted to earn PERS credit, so the council agreed to put the position back into the system in a move Semmens said would again save the city money.
When the position is out of PERS, Semmens said the city still pays 24.16 percent of the city manager’s salary into the system in what’s known as unfunded liability, essentially back payments into the system as it is currently underfunded.
“There’s still a debt associated with that position so you have to continue to make contributions equal to what’s called the past service rate. The past service rate is the debt service,” Semmens said.
When Dixson starts, the city’s share will be reduced to 22% of his salary, he said.
Dixson’s starting salary will be $120,000 a year and it will go up in $5,000 increments for the next two years. At that time it will then be determined by the council as part of its annual budget process, according to city’s employment offer.
The Binkley Street water and sewer rehabilitation project was unanimously supported as the city’s priority project as the water main freezes annually and the street’s lift station is at capacity and cannot accommodate pump failure or an increase in flow, according to a resolution.
City Utility Manager Rick Wood said most of the street was lined with businesses.
He said the project would insulate the water main and all services up to the property lines on Binkley Street between Marydale Street and Riverview Avenue.
He estimated it would cost between $1.8 million to $2 million.
He said the decision to designate the project as a priority would help the state decide how to allocate money.
According to the city’s resolution the designation will help the project earn points in the municipal matching grant (MMG) program through the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
Once funded, Dixson said he hoped to have the project done before tourists make it back to the Peninsula next year.
“It’d be something that would probably get started by May and we’d hope to get things done by July,” he said. “We’d like to get it done before the traffic really hits town if that’s possible.”
Semmens said the search for a new police chief has been narrowed to five candidates and he hoped to have the list narrowed to three to interview in September.
The council also approved an ordinance accepting state grant money for projects including a Centennial Park Trail Development Project.
The trail is planned to start at the visitors center and connect to the boardwalk below the visitor’s center and then to Centennial Park.
Semmens said the project was still in the planning stages and a construction advisory committee would help to develop the trail.
The council also approved an ordinance accepting a $395,000 grant from the Rasmuson foundation for the ongoing library expansion project.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.