The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

City council faces retirement, taxes, providence

 

Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix Log

Retiring City of Seward Dispatch Supervisor Shelia Squires is recognized by Mayor David Seaward for her 25 years of service to the community.

Citizen comments by local businessman Tom Tougas presaged consideration of tax proposals forwarded by Mayor David Seaward as part of the Seward City Council meeting Monday. Tougas stated vehement opposition to increasing taxes, attributing the undercurrent to a recurring money grab that is a consistent feature as the city budget development process draws near. In subsequent discussion, Councilor Vanta Shafer objected to resurrecting property and sales tax initiatives, based on her conviction that the citizenry had definitively rejected tax hikes and that public sentiment has not changed.

In response, Mayor Seaward stated that additional city operating costs including library maintenance had added an extra dimension to the tax issue that voters may wish to re-appraise. Councilor Shafer proposed that Seaward bring a formal resolution forward for consideration by council. Councilor Christy Terry objected to subjecting property taxes to informal plebiscite, which would give precedent to citizen oversight on a taxing authority that is unilaterally reserved to the council.

Prominent Sewardites Sheila Squires and Dave Squires were formally introduced to their retirement by Mayor Seaward and were bestowed upon. City of Seward Police Chief Tom Clemons made a rare unsolicited sojourn to the podium to commend Mrs. Squires on her service and even voiced his appreciation for her constructive objective resistance on the job, especially when she turned out to be right.

The Tuesday proceedings were prefaced by a special meeting regarding the settlement of outstanding claims by the city against the operation of Providence Seward Medical and Care Center. In the absence of City Attorney Cheryl Brooking, consideration of the contract before council was stunted. Councilor Ristine Casagranda was reluctant to approve the contract without legal counsel and opined for additional time to review the document. In short order, the council had agreed to recess the special meeting, although it wasn’t readily apparent that the resumption of the meeting would occur later that evening.

Cindy Clock, Seward Chamber of Commerce director, professed encountering widespread excitement over Seward Marine Industrial Center development during her recently concluded travels and is in pursuit of near-term meetings with Royal Dutch Shell and Coastal Villages Region Fund to encourage and enhance economic development. The chamber is angling for a Vista program volunteer and Clock mentioned soliciting the city for office space for the new recruit. City Manager Jim Hunt referred her to Ron Long, assistant city manager, who is the administration’s point man on municipal real estate.

Councilor Bob Valdatta broached the interminable subject of signage and and visitor information at the Alaska Railroad Cruise Ship Terminal, alleging that the situation is somewhat chaotic and something should be done about it. Coincidentally, specific direction was not forthcoming. Councilor Casagranda also questioned the effectiveness and consistency of bus stop signage, wondering if it weren’t possible to make the system more visible.

The city manager’s report notably expanded the discussion of city code regarding camping on residential lots. About two weeks ago, a local property owner had some visitors in a RV parked on his vacant residential lot which generated a complaint by another resident. This property owner informally inventoried similar residential properties and found 40 related violations regarding travel trailers and mobile homes. During discussion among council, the hard reality that no storage and no camping are allowed in residential areas were reiterated, restrictions exemplified by the fact that property owners can’t even put a tent in their own yard.

City Manager Hunt asserted that the administration would like council’s direction to make ordinances more visitor and property owner friendly. With the exception of Forest Acres Subdivision, which benefits from a more lenient zoning regime.

Changes to city construction codes were again brought to hearing with no resulting public or contractor participation. City of Seward Building Department Inspector Stefan Nilsson could not identify a cause for the lack of input, but speculated that the significant code changes only had bearing on structures larger than 3,600 square feet and there was not a large degree of that kind of construction taking place or in the offing. Councilor Terry asked that the city solicit and track even informal verbal comments on the proposed code changes.

The resumption of the discussion of the PSMCC settlement contract resulted in general agreement amongst council members that the document continued to be the best option for the city. However, the State of Alaska, which will disburse the funds, is insisting that the city release all rights to future litigation and accept the settlement as-is. Councilor Shafer objected to the city attorney’s insistence on retention of right to litigate and Councilor Terry expressed dissatisfaction that the city attorney was not present and that there was no backup legal counsel.

Valdatta asserted that accepting the settlement would ensure that the city gets some compensation for its claims and that signing off would avoid considerable continuing legal expense. The resolution was amended, passed and approved, paving the way for the settlement to proceed.

 

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