People who live on dirt roads in Kenai may not be deluged with dust this summer after all.
After deciding to cut the dust control program out of the city's budget both this summer and next, at a savings of about $80,000 each year, the Kenai City Council is now rethinking that decision.
At a council meeting Wednes-day, Bruce Passe of Kenai brought a petition to the council signed by people who want the dust control program reinstated.
"I oppose the lack of dust control," Passe told the council. "The No. 1 reason is it's a health issue."
Passe said he has neighbors in the Thompson Park subdivision where he lives who have respiratory problems that are exacerbated by the dust.
He also suggested that the city's main responsibilities to its citizens are fire protection, police protection and good roads. Passe made the observation that the emulsion oil that is sprayed on dirt roads to combat dust seems to keep the roads from needing to be graded as often.
"Whatever you spend on dust control helps hold (the roads) together," he said.
The council made no decision on the matter at its meeting, but it did explore the possibility of reinstating the dust control program for this summer.
Council member Pat Porter spoke in favor of doing so, since she said she was not happy about the council deciding to cut it from the budget without alerting the public.
"I'm feeling very guilty sitting up here as a council person. ... We arbitrarily (decided) to cancel it with no notice," she said. "I truly feel that we did not do the right thing to the citizens of our city. They know (the dust control program has been canceled) for next year, but not this year."
When council members decided to cut the program, it was assumed they wouldn't be able to change their minds about it, because reserving the distributor truck and hiring the company to haul the truck and oil from Anchorage to Kenai is something that needs to be done well in advance.
In past years, once summer began, the company the city rents from has gotten booked up and couldn't accommodate last-minute requests.
That does not seem to be the case this year, however.
Public Works Manager Keith Kornelis reported that the company the city rents from expanded its fleet of distributor trucks, and there is one available that could be brought to Kenai in mid- to late June.
The question now is whether the council wants to spend the money to do that. The dust control program was originally cut as a way to save money in a pinched city budget.
There was money allocated in the fiscal year 2003 city budget for the dust control program that has not been spent this year, but if the council decides to do the dust control program this summer, that money will not lapse into next year's budget, which is in the red to begin with.
"My opinion of this is how deep into the fund balance do you want to go?" Kenai Mayor John Williams asked.
City Manager Linda Snow pointed out that if the council decides to reinstate the dust control program this summer, they will be paying full price for a service that the city will not get its normal use out of, since the emulsion is usually applied in April or May.
It was suggested that the city could possibly go into a joint venture with the Kenai Peninsula Borough's dust control program, to save itself money.
The borough uses a salt in its dust control program, which is cheaper than the emulsion oil the city uses.
However, Kornelis pointed out that the salt may not last as long as the emulsion oil and has other drawbacks.
"It's corrosive," he said. "It's corrosive to equipment and it's corrosive to the vehicles it comes in contact with."
The council voted to have the administration investigate whether it would be possible to team up with the borough's dust control program this summer, and what the comparative cost and durability of the salt versus the emulsion oil would be.
Williams and council members Porter, John "Ozzie" Osborne, Amy Jackman and Joe Moore voted in favor of the measure, while council members Linda Swarner and Jim Bookey voted against it.
The council likely will make a decision on the matter at its next meting, June 18.
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