Homer rejects tax on groceries
• Voters choose Hogan and Roberts for city council seats
By Sean Pearson
HOMER TRIBUNE/Aaron Selbig - Volunteers assist voters at the polls. Homer voters rejected the seasonal levy on sales tax revisited this year.
Homer voters trickled into the polls yesterday as they weighed in on City and Borough propositions, as well as their choices for Homer City Council and Borough Assembly.
By 8:25 p.m. last night, some 545 Homer constituents voted to reject the 3-percent levy of a local, seasonal grocery sales tax. Last October, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters approved a ballot proposition exempting non-prepared foods from the Borough sales tax during the nine-month period from Sept. 1 through May 31.
By nearly a 14-percent margin, voters indicated that they meant what they said about not taxing groceries.
In the City Council race for two open seats, incumbent Francie Roberts was re-elected to her second term, while newcomer Kevin Hogan picked up the other open spot.
Roberts, having served on the council since 2006, pulled in a total of 530 votes from local voters, while Hogan logged 374 votes.
Kent Haina continues to be a threat to Hogan, however, as he trails by less than 23 votes, and some 150 absentee ballots remain to be counted Friday.
Early indications from Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson showed that this year’s numbers were particularly low.
“It’s been slow, really slow,” Johnson said. “I really thought we’d have a pretty good turnout last year for the mayoral election, but ever since we’ve voted on the Fred Meyer issue, turnout has been low.”
By 5:30 in the evening, poll volunteers were joking that the one or two voters trickling in at that time were the “evening rush.”
The rejection of the tax on groceries forces city officials to look deeper into funding woes in preparation for next year’s budget.
In Kenai Peninsula Borough action, voters turned out at Tuesday’s polls to choose Mako Haggerty as Borough Assembly Representative for the District 9 seat replacing long-time assembly member Milli Martin.
Haggerty pulled in 461 votes, opening a wide margin between himself and his closest contender, Tom Clark with 228 votes. Jesse Clutts garnered 110 votes.
Voters also passed the term-limit initiative, but by a relatively slim margin. Some 945 voters elected to impose term limits to two, three-year terms on the Borough Assembly, while 892 rejected the proposition.
City officials have continued to maintain that the seasonal tax is necessary in order to provide the level of services Homer residents have come to expect from the city. However, they are still awaiting an updated report from City Finance Director Regina Harville. The latest projections show revenues from the month of August down 10 percent from a year ago.
City Manager Walt Wrede said the city is facing a steep reduction in sales tax revenue caused primarily by the downturn in the economy and the sales tax exemption for non-prepared foods. He noted that the finance department is projecting at least a $600,000 revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year. In order to avoid large cost overruns this year, the city administration identified and implemented approximately $570,000 in expenditure reductions, mostly by leaving vacant positions unfilled. The City has also placed on hold the purchase of new equipment that was approved and budgeted but not yet acquired.
The 2010 budget is nearly $3 million less than the 2008 budget. In 2008, the city handled a $12.9 million budget that lopped down to $11.2 million 2009. The draft budget for the coming year is another $1.3 million less than 2009’s at less than $10 million.
Voters also voted on a borough measure to limit terms of office for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to two consecutive terms.
The public weighed in heavily on term limits throughout the campaigning process on the measure. Many called the limits “restricting,” suggesting that they don’t allow the right to pick the candidate of their choice if they have already limited out of office.
Others indicated a stronger sense that putting term limits in effect helps to level the playing field and allow for healthy turnover.
Three candidates ran for the open seat on the District 9 Assembly, however results from the Borough race, as well as the issue of term limits, were not available by press time.
Please check the Homer Tribune Web site for updated information.