Loose ends, next budget on docket

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch expects Wednesday's city council meeting to be relatively quiet. But as the year comes to a close Koch and council members will be busy discussing last-minute city matters and gearing up for next year's budget process.

City administrators will ask the council for input regarding the contract renewal for the city's health insurance plan. Koch said few aspects of medical coverage would change for Kenai city employees, but their total out-of-pocket cost for the year would increase from $2,000 to $3,000. The increase in out-of-pocket expenses for employees is a result of the rising cost of health care, Koch said.

"It comes up every year," Koch said. "(This year) our costs have doubled in four years. And it will come up next year because it will probably go up another 20 percent."

Koch and representatives from each city department have met for the past six weeks to discuss the change in health care and for the representatives to gather information to bring back to their own department. Koch said he met with city employees on Monday and will be armed with their input when he goes before the city council Wednesday.

"(Comment) will be from one end of the gamut to the other," he said. "Some employees will say, 'Gee, we recognize health care costs have more than doubled in the last four years, we simply can't keep paying every renewal quote.'"

Koch said he expects employees to ask the city to absorb the increased out-of-pocket cost, but it would be up to the city council to decide how much, if any, the city will pay for health care. If no change is made to the health insurance contract, Koch said the cost would increase by almost 19 percent.

When the council convenes after the first of the year in January, one of the first tasks it will tackle is the budget. Koch said now is about the time the council goes through its budget process. Crunching numbers will take most of the spring, but hopefully the city will adopt a budget by March or April.

Koch said the city council is also going through the process of identifying and moving forward on various capital improvement projects that would include using a new street called Baron Park Drive to connect Airport Way and Marathon Road. Capital improvement projects would also include paving the end of Willow Street closest to Marathon Road as well as paving interior roads in the Thompson Park subdivision.

The council also awaits a decision from the Alaska Board of Fish when it meets in February on a joint resolution brought forward by the cities of Kenai and Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The resolution asks the board to come up with "means and methods" of fishing below the Warren Ames Bridge during the month of July that would reduce the levels of hydrocarbons in the water. Koch said the Kenai River Working Group's resolution is similar to others put foward by the public and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"The city of Kenai has limited ability to address what's happening on the water," Koch said when asked about a tabled ordinance that would restrict boats launching from the city dock to four-stroke or direct fuel-injected two-stroke motors. "We could limit the kinds of motors that are able to use our boat launch ramp, but that's not the only way to get on the river so it would be difficult, possibly impossible, for the city of Kenai on its own to enact a local regulation."

Koch said the Board of Fish controls the means and methods of harvest on the Kenai River below the Warren Ames Bridge and at this point, the joint resolution is a piece of finished business with the city council. If this resolution and other proposed regulations that address hydrocarbon levels above the Warren Ames Bridge are approved at the board meeting, Koch said hopefully the river can be removed from its impaired status.

Next year looks to be interesting for the Kenai city council, Koch said. Not only is it an election year, Koch said city administration will be working with state congressional and legislative delegations on capital issues that he expects will take up a lot of time once the Legislature gets back in session. He and council members will also watch while state lawmakers begin working with AGIA next year as well as decide whether or not surplus funding for the project will go into Alaska's permanent fund.

"Senator (Tom) Wagoner, Representative (Kurt) Olson and Representative (Mike) Chenault are very good to work with," he said. "They stay abreast of what the issues are in our communities as do a number of legislators. The Kenai City Council will have a seat at the table and at discussions."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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