Kenai raises fees

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to include previously omitted information about council member Brian Gabriel’s ammendment to increase personal use fishery fees. 

Rents for some residents of Kenai’s Vintage Pointe senior housing will rise, as well as fees at the city boat launch during the personal use fishery.

The Kenai city council passed, with several amendments, a resolution to implement fee schedule changes recommended by city administrators in Kenai’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Proposed changes included a fee for Kenai library cards, a $35 monthly rent increase for some senior housing leases, increased parking and launch fees for the city’s boat ramp, an increase in Kenai Municipal Airport landing and apron fees, raised rent for airport buildings, and increased water and sewage fees.

Before taking up the library fee and Vintage Pointe rents, the council discussed the resolution’s personal use fishery proposal: increasing launch fees during the personal use fishery from $25.00 to $40.00, and increasing daily parking fees during the personal use fishery from $15 to $20. Council member Ryan Marquis proposed an amendment to keep the keep the launch fee at $25.

Council member Brian Gabriel, who introduced the administration-authored ammendment to raise the personal use fishery fees, said that most users of the boat launch were not Kenai residents and that fees would usually be split among several people using a boat. He said that the personal use fishery had new costs arising specifically from boat-users.

“We’ve instituted a no-wake zone that has increased our cost to implement,” Gabriel said. “Those are additional costs associated solely with the boating portion of that fishery.”

Bookey, opposing the increase, said he worried about “pricing people out who may need the fishery.”

Elimination of the launch fee increase failed with Gabriel, Knackstedt, Council member Tim Navarre, and Mayor Pat Porter voting against it. Immediately afterwards, Navarre moved to amend the fee to $35. Navarre’s motion passed, with Gabriel voting against it.

The $35 increase in Vintage Pointe rent is part of a 2013 plan to gradually bring the price of the senior apartments to market rates, as determined by a licensed appraiser every five years, according to a memo by Kenai Finance Director Terry Eubank. The determined markets rates are applied immediately to new Vintage Pointe leases, while leases that existed before the plan’s adoption in June 2013 are increased by a maximum of $35 to bring them closer to market value.

Discussion of the Vintage Point rent increase began with a move by Molloy to eliminate the increase.

“It’s something I’ve struggled with, and I’m sure most of the other councilors up here do,” said Gabriel, speaking in support of keeping the rent increase, which was based the market value of Vintage Point housing identified in a 2015 study by consulting group Derry and Associates. Gabriel said that based on that study, the increased rent was reasonable.

“The only information I can go off of is the rate study that was done that gave us the information that’s before us,” Gabriel said. “I’m not an appraiser so I can’t speak professionally about that. I can only look at what information we have… I do struggle with raising the rents, but I think the intent was to provide independent living at market rates, and that’s what the study showed us.”

Porter also said she reluctantly supported the increase.

“When the residents of Kenai come to me and tell me they don’t mind subsidizing the rents at Vintage Pointe, then I can make a different decision,” Porter said. “But that has not been something they have been willing to do in the past, and it has always been that residents who live there should be paying fair market value.”

The amendment to remove the increase of Vintage Pointe rents failed with Navarre, Porter, Gabriel, and Knackstedt voting against it.

Council member Terry Bookey moved to eliminate the resolution’s proposed $20 fee for non-Kenai residents to get cards at the Kenai Community Library. Kenai library cards are currently free to both residents and non-residents. According to the resolution, 65 percent of the library’s more than 11,000 registered users live outside of Kenai.

Bookey spoke of the importance of free access to books, magazines, and the internet.

“If a $20 fee eliminates even one person from having that access, then shame on us for allowing that to happen,” Bookey said.

Marquis also opposed the library fee on principal, recalling his own use of the library as a teenager.

“I didn’t have a lot of money as a teenager, and had it cost me to go there, I probably wouldn’t have,” Marquis said. “I would have done other things. Fortunately, I lived in the city of Kenai, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. But this imaginary boundary line that exists just a little bit (to the north and south of Kenai) shouldn’t prohibit equal access to our library.”

Gabriel noted that the resolution specified a $20 fee for every individual card, and questioned how it would affect families. Would all members of a family, including children, be required to pay the fee to have their own library cards?

The council broke for consultation with city attorney Scott Bloom on the question. Bloom determined that amending the resolution to address the issue would be a complicated process.

Porter and Knackstedt said they would vote to remove the library card fee because of the uncertainty.

“This whole issue has become very clouded to me, and unless it’s made clear, it’s nothing that I’m able to support at this time as well,” Porter said.

“I supported the $20 fee, and I do,” Knackstedt said. “However, I have some pause here. If a whole family would each have to pay $20 for a card, that is really not OK.”

The library card fee was unanimously removed from the resolution.

After eliminating the library card fee and reducing the boat launch fee to $35 from the proposed $40, the council passed the modified fee schedule with Marquis, Bookey, and Molloy voting against it.

In addition to the fee schedule changes, the council also passed four resolutions unanimously: appropriating $75,000 for city hall roof replacement, transferring $40,000 to pay for a study of the Kenai Fire Department, awarding a $99,935 contract to North Star Construction for municipal park improvement, and authorizing the city manager to enter a contract for city employee health insurance with provider Primera Blue Cross Blue Shield.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com

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