Seward utility sale back on ballot, with question about vote threshold

Seward City Hall
Seward City Hall (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

An ongoing effort to sell Seward’s city-run utility to a larger utility company is getting another chance on the ballot.

In May, a vote on whether to sell the utility to Homer Electric Association failed. 58% of residents supported the sale, but the city required a 60% threshold, and it failed by just seven votes. After the public shot down the sale, the utility’s manager warned of an impending increase to rates.

On July 24, the Seward City Council considered a resolution which would ask voters if the city should reduce the 60% requirement to a simple majority. They also took up a resolution to put the sale back on the ballot in October. Public testimony was not supportive of either resolution.

Seward residents criticized the council’s decision to discuss parts of the sale process in closed-door meetings, and the choice of Homer Electric Association as a buyer over Anchorage utility Chugach Electric, which had lower rates.

One of those objectors was ratepayer Kevin Dunham.

“There’s no way you should have done what you did,” he testified. “Now, you need to let the people know what the rates are, out in the open, not in executive session.”

Other speakers criticized the tactics of changing the election requirements, and the interest in putting the sale back on the ballot this year, which many characterized as hasty.

Several council members, however, said the close vote suggests the majority of ratepayers support the sale.

Member Mike Calhoon referenced an advisory vote on the same matter two decades ago that had a simple majority of support.

“Now we’re at 58, almost 58 and a half percent, which is almost 19% higher than the people that voted no,” Calhoon said. “In any other forum — and I understand what the charter says — but in any other forum, that’s a landslide.”

The resolution passed 4-2, which means Seward voters will get to decide in October if that threshold should be decreased. The no votes were from Mayor Sue McClure and Robert Barnwell.

Then the council supported another vote on the sale by the same 4-2 lines, which means it will be back on the ballot for Seward voters on Oct. 3.

Previous articleEnvironmental activists work to reconnect Yukon villages with salmon amid subsistence restrictions
Next articleTwo years into his tenure, Anchorage Mayor Bronson reflects on homeless policy, shelter plans and Assembly relationship