The Soldotna City Council still cannot decide whether it needs to legally require bicycle helmets be worn by kids in the community, though there is little doubt a proposed helmet ordinance was written with good intentions.
Ordinance 810 would "require minors under the age of 16 to wear properly fitted helmets while riding bicycles and-or other similar vehicles on city highways, streets, roads, bike paths or trails and bicycle paths."
Soldotna Chief of Police John Lucking reported about how the ordinance, if passed, would affect the police department. Lucking said if the department were to enforce the law, even at a low level of implementation, it would take considerable time away from officers' other priorities and patrol.
"We would have to develop a logging system to track repeat offenders. If we were to issue citations, that would take as long as 15 minutes to write up the document, and since kids usually ride bikes in groups we would have to write out even more tickets, taking more time. Then someone would have to drive the documents to the court house in Kenai, which means it would get into hours of overtime," he said.
Lucking contacted police departments in Bethel and Kenai, which both have helmet laws. He said he got the feeling the laws there were well intended but had some negative effects.
"This is the responsible thing to do. It has very good intention, but enforcing the law here would be a nightmare," Lucking said.
Other questions addressed the blanket effect the ordinance would have. The council was unclear about whether the ordinance would apply to things like skateboards, running strollers or roller skates, and agreed there was a considerable amount of ambiguity in the proposed legislation.
The ethical question of government legislating personal responsibility also was raised. Daniel Lynch, a Soldotna resident, addressed the council and said it was not the role of the government to mandate how, and by what means, parents raise their children.
"It is my right to raise, protect and discipline my child in a way I see fit," Lynch said. He also questioned how the city would practically enforce the law.
"How will police determine a child's age? Will kids have to carry an ID? We should be careful of the socialist path we're walking down," he said.
Jane Fellman, coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula SAFE KIDS program at Central Peninsula General Hospital, testified that safety and education are critical to children of the community and asked the council to support the ordinance.
"We still see kids without helmets. The data says injuries are fatal, and it's too bad it has to come to this, but it needs to be enforced. It is a step in the right direction. The children need it to be able to ride bicycles and enjoy the community safely," Fellman said.
Council member Sharon Moock said the ordinance might have overstepped its bounds.
"I think we've gone too far here. We do need to be proactive and do whatever we need to do, but I don't think this is it," Moock said.
Council member Ed Sleater had similar feelings about the efforts, but agreed it is well meant.
"This is too intrusive. It's too 'big brother'," he said.
After debate, the council tabled the motion to enact Ordinance 810 until a February meeting.
"I'm thankful they are willing to address the issue. I hope there becomes more support in education out of this, anyway. We have to protect the kids of the community. Now we just need to get people using helmets as a habit, and I hope we can do that without dividing people," Fellman said. "There are some good alternatives, like having things similar to the buckle-up signs," she said.
In other business, Ordinance 812 was set for public hearing on Dec. 22. The measure would authorize $1.428 million to move from the sales tax fund to the city shop project fund. Tom Boedeker, city manager, and Steve Bonebrake, public works director, explained the plan layout and site development.
"The city shop property has already been purchased but we need to develop the entrances and buffer zones between our future neighbors," Boedeker said.
The central building will have two offices, a break room, locker room, restrooms and basement storage. Another building will be for warm storage of road graters and trucks. The buildings will be separate structures but connected by an enclosed hall in order to cut utilities costs afforded to air-changing requirements.
"As it stands now, utilities costs are as high as they can possibly be. The new shop should correct that," Boedeker said.
The council also passed a 2 percent wage increase for all nonunion city employees. This retroactive legislation provides the increase from July 1. The pay scale also will be adjusted by 1 percent on July 1, 2005, and again by the same amount the following year.
In other business, the council,
Approved Ordinance 808 to rezone the Aspen Flats addition from a single family-two family district to a limited commercial district.
Approved Ordinance 809 to rezone the Marydale subdivision from a multifamily to a commercial district.
Approved Ordinance 811 appropriating funds for utility work in connection with the bridge project phase two, a $300,000 adjustment for sewer work.
Set for public hearing Ordinance 812, making supplemental appropriations of $1.428 million for city shop project.
Set for public hearing Ordinance 813, making supplemental appropriations of $499,000 and revising the 2005 budget for a street revolving fund and street construction fund. The council discussed Lingonberry Lane specifically, one of nine streets to be improved for emergency vehicle accessibility and maintenance.
Set for public hearing Ordinance 814, making supplemental appropriations of $2,000 for the Joe Wilkins Memorial display case in the Soldotna Library.
Adopted Resolution 2004-93, setting a public hearing on Ridgewood Drive street improvements.
Adopted Resolution 2004-94, authorizing a UV disinfection system upgrade with HDR Alaska.
Adopted Resolution 2004-95, authorizing Kalifornsky Beach water and sewer mainline extension projects.
Adopted Resolution 2004-96, approving the reorganization and reclassification of positions in the utility division.
Adopted Resolution 2004-98, authorizing a right-of-way dedication for the Lingonberry Street connection of Swiftwater Park road.
The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 22. Agendas can be found at the Soldotna City Clerk's office or at www.ci.soldotna.ak.us. For more information, call 262-9107.
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