If Wednesday evening's meeting is any indication, the Soldotna City Council faces some tough decisions in the coming months.
The council voted Wednesday to set a public hearing in September on a proposed smoking ban in restaurants. The proposed ban would apply to all public eating establishments within the city. Bars would be exempt from the ban, provided they are in an enclosed area.
The ordinance was brought before the council at the request of council member Sharon Moock.
The council didn't debate the smoking issue Wednesday, though the public hearing date was pushed back from a proposed August hearing until September. Moock said she wanted business owners to have more time to prepare for the proposal.
"I think we need to have plenty of comments from the community (on the proposed smoking ban)," Moock said. "We need not be accused of not giving them enough time."
A public hearing on the proposed ban was set for the Sept. 11 council meeting.
The other tricky issue the council considered didn't come in the form of a resolution or ordinance. Instead, the council heard from City Manager Tom Boedeker on the status of the city's proposed sewage treatment upgrade. Boedeker told the council that only one contractor submitted a bid for the proposed third clarifier-ultraviolet disinfection wastewater treatment project, and that bid was substantially more than the city has budgeted for the project.
The project is needed to expand the city's wastewater treatment handling capacity. Adding a third clarifier to the system would increase the city's wastewater handling capacity to what's permitted, currently 1 million gallons per day. Additionally, the UV upgrade would provide for a safer system that relies on ultraviolet radiation instead of dangerous chemicals to treat the city's sewage.
Boedeker said the problem is that the city had anticipated around $300,000 in cost overruns when allocating approximately $1.58 million for the project. The only bid, submitted by Blazy Construction, set the price at $2.45 million, or around $875,000 more than the city anticipated.
"That would essentially take all of our reserve capital money," he said. "It's kind of a big problem."
Boedeker explained to the council that there are two separate parts to the project: the third clarifier portion and the UV portion. Boedeker said he believes the clarifier portion can be done without the UV portion, which would give the city additional handling capabilities at the treatment plant. However, in order for the system to function at top capacity and safety, both portions of the project eventually must be built.
Boedeker said doing only the clarifier work now would still benefit the city.
"The clarifier without the UV would reduce the level of chemicals that are used," he said.
Boedeker said one option the city council might consider would be to build the third clarifier portion with existing funds, then seek additional funding for the UV portion sometime in the future.
However, he said the project should remain a high priority, since a new system will almost certainly have to be in place within the next five years.
"It's a difficult position. This is a project everyone would like to see," Boedeker said. "If you have a UV system, you eliminate the chemical risk. If the system fails, you still discharge sewage into the river," but threats to the environment are minimized.
The council decided to continue looking at ways to finance the entire project. No action was taken on the project, though the council did express a desire to proceed with the project in some form, without exhausting reserve capital funds.
One other issue before the council generated some debate. An ordinance to reduce the rate the city charges for lots at the airport from 7 to 6 percent of appraised value drew the ire of council member Jim Stogsdill.
Boedeker told the council bills already had been mailed reflecting the new lease rates. Stogsdill laughed sarcastically at the idea that the change had been made without council's final approval.
"The only argument about changing it from 7 to 6 percent is that they do it somewhere else," Stogsdill said. "I really don't see a need to drop this, and I'm not going to approve it."
Despite Stogsdill's objections, the council voted 4-2 in favor of the rate reduction, with Joyce Cox joining Stogsdill in opposing the measure.
In other action Wednesday, the council:
n Presented Barbara Jewell with a commemorative city of Soldotna clock in recognition for her numerous civic projects, especially her work on beautification projects and the cemetery task force. Council members were unanimous in their praise.
"Barbara, we're really proud of what you do, you know that," said council member Jane Stein.
"I just quietly go through Soldotna and do things, just as all of you do," Jewell said. "Thank you."
Accepted a grant in the amount of $11,500 from the state of Alaska for the Tobacco Sales Enforcement Project, a project used by the city to enforce underage tobacco laws.
Waived the standard bid process in directing Boedeker to immediately pursue a project to repaint lanes on Binkley Street. The resolution directs Boedeker to begin looking into changing to a new configuration on Binkley that would alter the street from four lanes to two lanes with a center turn lane.
Approved a joint agreement between the city and state to proceed with the East Redoubt Phase II project, which will make improvements, including paving, to East Redoubt, Keystone Drive and Soper Street.
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