Annexed area to feel Homer sales tax bite

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2002

HOMER -- Businesses in the newly annexed area of Homer will start collecting the additional 3.5 percent city sales tax on Monday, which should boost city coffers by nearly $600,000 a year. In addition, property taxes from homes and businesses will eventually add another $300,000 or more.

In all, new revenues from the annexed area, plus a small amount from the state, should increase the city's bottom line by nearly $1 million a year.

The city is already spending it, said City Manager Ron Drathman.

"We are under way with transition activities," he said.

City police started patrolling the new area March 9 and have already responded to calls, Police Chief Mark Robl said. He hopes to have one new officer hired this summer, and eventually to add two four-wheel-drive vehicles and a snowmachine or two to the city's motor pool.

"Sometimes we get a lot of snow on the ridge, and we can't get in there any other way," he said.

While police are patrolling the annexed areas, enforcement of city ordinances will wait until the planning process is complete, Robl said.

"Some ordinances are probably not appropriate" for the area, such as leash laws and driving snowmachines on public land.

Others, such as hunting within city limits, are probably correctly extended throughout the city, he said, given the population density of the annexed areas. And he has worked out an agreement with a gunsmith in the annexed area to be able to test-fire weapons at a private shooting range.

Annexation's effect on fire service should be negligible, Drathman said. Homer Volunteer Fire Department is now directly responsible for protecting the new area, whereas before the city had provided that service through contract to Kachemak Emergency Service Area.

The service area has been paying the city more than $100,000 every six months.

The service area will lose property tax revenues from the property now in the city.

However, service area costs should decline by the same amount, as its contract with the city is based on the value of property within its boundaries.

The city has used the KESA funds to hire two full-time employees at the fire hall, improving emergency response everywhere in the city and service area.

That staffing has already started, Drathman said.

Road service won't change for new city residents. Their snowplowing, ditching and other road work had been done by contractors for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and the city is picking up the same contracts for the same work, Drathman said.

City residents who have septic holding tanks will get some relief from the city soon.

The city council had been expected to introduce legislation paving the way for haulers to start using the city's sewage treatment plant.

Residents who signed up for the service would pay the same monthly service charges that all city sewer customers pay, and would still have to pay the pumper. But pumpers would have a far shorter drive to empty their tanks, reducing costs to the customer.

The city eventually hopes to extend that same offer to regular septic-tank users who pump their tanks once every year or two. Commercial haulers currently have to drive north of Anchor Point to dump their tanks, which adds to the cost of the service. By dumping at the city treatment plant, those costs should fall.

The treatment plant cannot currently handle the concentrated effluent from a septic tank. The plant will require some upgrades first, Public Works Director Carey Meyer said.

Drathman and other city officials plan to hold a series of transition meetings with interested members of the public starting Monday, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Homer City Hall. Additional meetings are set for April 9 and 23, and May 6, 14, 20 and 29.

"We're just going to open it up for anyone with questions or suggestions on how things could be done better to come on in," he said.

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