Developer's arguments don't wash with Kenai City Council

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2004

Kenai City Council members have little sympathy for people who fail to pay their water bill.

The council upheld a city administration decision to charge a Kenai condo owner nearly $4,000 in late water and sewer fees Wednesday after finding that the man should have notified the city when he added two units to an existing four-unit development. DeWayne Craig, the condo owner, testified before the council that he thought when he submitted a survey to the city's planning and zoning commission in 1999 showing six units, that was enough notification for the city.

However, Craig failed to go to the city asking that he be charged the correct rate. For the past five years he has been getting underbilled for water and sewer at his condo complex.

"He's been paying for four units," Kenai finance director Larry Semmens told the council.

Craig argued that since he submitted a survey, the city -- not he -- should have been responsible for billing him at the correct, six-unit rate.

"I did notify the city," he said.

Council members did not agree. Since city code is clear that it's the property owner's responsibility to notify the city when changes need to be made to billing, the council had little sympathy for Craig's argument.

"It says it's the property owner's responsibility," council member Linda Swarner said. "... It seems appropriate to me that you owe the money."

Craig said that to force him to pay the full amount owed to the city would be an undue burden because he never factored in the cost to his tenants.

"I can't go back and collect any of the money from the renters," he said.

Craig did seem to find an ally in council member Blaine Gilman, who said it appears as if the city's code is confusing and could lead to other billing mistakes being made.

"How is a property owner supposed to know he needs to go back in and tell the city, 'I need to pay more in water bills?'" Gilman asked.

Council member Rick Ross disagreed with Gilman, saying the code is clear and the system has worked well for the vast majority of property owners.

"I believe we should stick with the system we have," Ross said.

Kenai Mayor John Williams said the city administration was right in charging Craig for the services because to forgive the charges would essentially be asking other city users to subsidize Craig's water.

"To not pay the bill casts the burden of support on every person in the city," he said.

With that, the council finished its discussion on the matter, ending Craig's hope of getting relief. However, the city did agree that it would be appropriate to drop late fees and penalties and allow Craig to pay the bill over a period of time.

In other action, the city council:

Amended the city code to add a subsection that requires candidates for city office to file a copy of the candidate's nominating petition with the city clerk that includes the candidate's name, address and office sought before the petition is circulated for signatures.

Adopted the Kenai Annex to the Kenai Peninsula Borough All Hazard Mitigation Plan as an Official Plan. The move was needed so the borough could go ahead and submit its plan to the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Before approving the annex, the council did eliminate a section that suggested erosion could be caused by erecting sea walls and other barriers along the coastline. Council members felt that including the section could jeopardize the city's proposed coastal trail and bluff erosion project.

Approved a cooperative agreement between the city, Kenai Peninsula Borough and the 2006 Kenai Peninsula Arctic Winter Games Host Society. Among other things, the agreement allows the Games to use the city's multipurpose facility during the events and also prohibits the city from using any of its facilities for competitive sporting events while the Games take place. Since the multipurpose facility and Kenai Recreation Center already are scheduled to be used as venues for the Games, the council said it did not have a problem with this clause.

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