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Council mulls rules on special districts

Posted: September 27, 2012 - 8:55pm  |  Updated: September 28, 2012 - 8:18am

The Soldotna Council fixed old problems, said goodbye to its city manager and welcomed a new police chief during Wednesday’s meeting.

During a meeting that ended in darkness after the building lost power, the council discussed changes to its code for special assessment districts.

The trouble with the city’s code began with Lingonberry Lane near Swiftwater Park in Soldonta.

Some residents, including Brian Shackleton, attempted to use the city’s special assessment district code to pay for street improvements on the tiny gravel lane which devolves into a muddy mess each spring.

“It’s basically a homesteader’s trail through the woods,” said Schackleton. “It’s had gravel thrown on it over the years to keep it passable but it’s not entirely in the right of way in some spots ... it’s not city-maintained, so the homestead family still is the default road maintenance provider.”

A special assessment district is a geographic area that receives an improvement that is paid for by the people that benefit from that improvement, said city manager Larry Semmens.

Under the old code, a sponsor could initiate a SAD by filling out an application and then collecting enough signatures to represent at least half of the value of the property it would benefit.

This meant that the signatures of people who had higher value property held more weight than people whose property wasn’t worth as much.

“That became contentious because there’s a high disparity in the property values in this neighborhood because some are underdeveloped and others are riverfront properties — developed — so the assessed values are very high,” Shackleton said. “So the people with the developed properties in that scenario have a little bit more sway.”

He estimated that, at the time the SAD petition was filed, he had about 52 percent support in his neighborhood when based on assessed values.

However, during its October 2011 meeting the city council decided that the code needed work and it voted down the Lingonberry Lane petition.

“It was a small majority and it was based on the assessed valuations but ­— in terms of say, property parcels — we were a little less than 50 percent ... which angered some of the others,” Shackleton said. “I think that was the driving force to change the code to have more of a majority. But, on the other side of the coin, that makes it more difficult to get projects in motion.”

During the meeting, city planner Stephanie Queen said city administration would be able to get involved earlier in the process of establishing an SAD rather than allowing a community sponsor to establish the parameters. “The administration would decide the extent of the district, the parcels included, the level of improvement — gravel versus pavement versus storm drains, lights et cetera — and then the administration would also recommend a cost allocation,” she said. “Once the petition is generated it would be given back to the sponsor ... they would circulate it for signatures.”

The city would also require at least 60 percent of the parcel owners to sign the petition and they would have to bear 50 percent of the total cost of the project, Queen said.

During a public comment portion of the meeting, Shackleton said the rewrite was extensive but a bit complicated and he wasn’t sure how it would work in practice. He also said it didn’t seem as though the city had included a lot of public input in its code changes.

Ultimately the council decided to approve the changes to the code and while Shackleton was disappointed, he said he was happy the city had revisited its code.

He isn’t sure how his neighborhood will get its road fixed.

“I don’t know that I’ll be attempting a petition here in the near future or not,” he said. “I just don’t think the support for this neighborhood will meet those criteria.”

The council also approved an ordinance which added a project manager to the city’s positions.

Semmens said the city appropriated $100,000 in its $1.2 million in its capital projects allocation for the year toward contracted project manager work.

“Our staff in the public works department are overloaded and I don’t see this condition changing in the next several years given the funds that we have and the projects that we’ve identified,” Semmens said.

The administration will finish a project description for the position which Semmens said should be up for approval during the next council meeting.

Mayor Peter Micciche announced that the vacant police chief position was offered to local wildlife trooper Pete Mlynarik.

Semmens said pending a polygraph and psychological examination, Mlynarik will be hired as soon as possible.

Several council members bid farewell to Semmens who will be replaced by new hire Mark Dixson at the Oct. 10 council meeting.

 

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

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