Homer voters will decide between three candidates for two Homer City Council seats. Francie Roberts and Beau Burgess are incumbents, challenged by James Dolma.
Candidates were each asked to respond to a series of questions, with their answers posted below:
Q: Aside from the Homer Area Natural Gas line, how do you identify the other biggest issues facing the Homer City Council in the year ahead?
Francie Roberts: One of the big issues facing Homer in the future is the repair and expansion of the harbor. The harbor is an economic engine for Homer, and some of the facilities are in need of repair and improvement. Another upcoming issue is the improvement of the vehicular traffic flow in Homer.
James Dolma: I will listen to as many points of view as possible and weigh that against the needs and resources of the city.
Beau Burgess: After working so hard to get natural gas service to Homer, it’s important that we make sure the entire city now shares in the economic benefits. I sponsored the resolution initiating the LID process to build out gas lines throughout the city. This project will remain a very high priority for me.
Homer faces the same challenges we all face in these times of economic uncertainty. There are always more worthy causes than the city can afford to support. The most important decisions I make as a councilmember are in prioritizing the city’s needs and in choosing how to fund those needs. I place the highest priority on core city services and infrastructure – roads (snowplowing), water, sewer, port and harbor, trails, police, fire and EMS. These are the areas where the city’s efforts have the greatest economic and quality of life benefits for everyone. There are certain organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Pratt Museum and Community Schools that the city should also continue to support. These groups and others are able to achieve goals above and beyond what the city is able to with the limited funds provided.
The only long-term solutions to address our high water and sewer rates are to infill and expand these services. The city must show leadership here. If we continue to leave core infrastructure development decisions in the hands of one small neighborhood at a time, we create the situation in which we find ourselves now: high water and sewer costs to end users and the need for the taxpayer at large to subsidize these systems.
Not only do core city services offer the greatest advantages to the community as a whole, but if and when we should find ourselves alone at the end of the road, investments we’ve made in these systems will see us better prepared for whatever comes. We must avoid the tempting words a candidate may offer, that lead us to believe the city should fund pet projects or set policies addressing the needs of a particular group or lifestyle. This ultimately detracts from core services and is usually not the best use of city resources.
Q: How do you envision the build-out of the gas line? Would you like to see it made available to the most amount of people the soonest possible or a slower process?
Roberts: I think the gas network should be provided to as many of the businesses and homes as possible in the City of Homer. The city’s main role should be to provide financing for individual businesses and homeowners, assisting them to pay for their portion of the build-out. The city has access to a low interest rate to borrow the money and can afford to oversee the repayment plan. Property owners will pay about 300-400 dollars a year for ten years. I do not foresee the city being involved in assisting the business or homeowner to get the gas line across private property. The city should be making sure the build-out costs are as low as possible for the citizens.
Dolma: I envision the gas line build out to be as comprehensive as possible and sooner rather than later. I personally like the idea of larger entities and users carrying a larger cost. The balanced cost per lot regardless of size, value or usage is the easiest to implement and the one favored by the current council. I am ready and willing to move ahead with this method.
Burgess: We’ve all paid to get it here, now we all should share in the benefits. I will continue to work hard to see that natural gas is made available to every home and business in Homer as quickly and economically as possible. This has been a priority or mine since the moment I began working on the council.
The simple truth is that the larger a single build out, the cheaper the cost of construction is per lot. It’s also critical that property owners be able to finance these costs at low interest rates and pay them off over many years. Without the city leading the LID process, low interest rates and a low cost per lot will not be possible. It would end up taking decades for most of Homer to have affordable access to natural gas, and the overall cost of the project will be much higher per lot. The city should lead, not only to see gas made available to everyone, but also to help find financing for the costs of converting appliances and heaters to natural gas.
As an owner of a business that installs wind turbine foundations, I recognize that in the long-term we need to seek viable alternatives to fossil fuels. But in the medium-term natural gas is our most economical and locally available energy source. Without being so hasty that we overlook key contractual details with Enstar (the company that will build the gas lines), we need to do a city-wide build out and get it done as soon as possible. The construction process will certainly be disruptive, but by moving decisively we can make sure the disruption is as short as possible. If we move forward in the next few months, the construction process for a city-wide build-out, could be finished by the end of 2014.
Q: Homer is criticized as having the highest taxes in the Kenai Peninsula, at over 10% in the combination of mil rate and sales tax. Given that tax decreases aren’t likely, what can the council do to mitigate the high cost of living?
Roberts: One of the most important ways to lower the cost of living is to assist residents in lowering their energy expenditures. With the advent of a gas service to many residents and businesses in the next few years, this would be a great cost saving for those who choose to connect. Though each home or business has different costs, preliminary figures show residents will pay off their costs to access gas in two to five years. Water and sewer rates are high. The city has a task force investigating how to resolve this.
Dolma: There are costs associated with living in Homer (and Alaska), which I consider a desirable place to live. Often higher costs are associated with desirable places to live and raise a family. The job of the city council is to approve a budget and balance costs and expenses in such a way as to maximize the things its citizens enjoy and want, while keeping expenses as low as possible. The city council should move forward on the natural gas build out. This will save not only the City of Homer money, but save money for businesses and home owners. We can also strive to continue to improve efficiencies in building weatherization.
Burgess: In short, the city needs to invest tax revenues in infrastructure and services that lower the cost of living and doing business here. I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but a city-wide build out of natural gas is the single most important thing the city can promote to help offset our high cost of living. The average home will have completely paid for the cost of service via a citywide LID and converting to natural gas, in three years. After that, their energy costs will average less than half of what they would pay for oil or electric heat.
Upgrading our aging firefighting facilities and equipment will not only keep people and property safer, but will lower insurance rates for everyone in Homer and beyond. As we begin work on the annual budget and CIP list, new equipment and facility upgrades for our first responders, including a new skyline fire station, will be high on my list. Expansion of water and sewer services will help to reduce costs, both for current users and for those who will no longer need private wells and septic systems. Investing wisely in revenue generating port and harbor facilities will help bring tourist dollars and maritime commerce to our city. This creates revenue for businesses and career opportunities for our youth.
Aside from core services, we need to focus on quality of life, thus making a higher cost of living worthwhile. The hospital, the college, our parks trails and schools all need to be fully appreciated, utilized and supported. We must never forget that the fate of a democracy is directly tied to its citizen’s quality of education and their ability to participate in government. Even though the city has little direct involvement in educational facilities, we must recognize our children as our most important long-term investment.
Q: What special qualities help in your understanding of residents needs when you think of public policy?
Roberts: I have lived in the Homer area for a long time, both in and outside of the city limits. Having served on the city council for the past six years, I am well versed in many of the issues before the council. I am a good listener and prepare thoroughly for the bi-weekly meetings.
Dolma: I am committed to helping Homer meet its economic development goals and maintain fiscal health while strengthening the aspects of our community that make it a great place to live.
Burgess: I want to be very clear in saying that every member serving on the council is intelligent, capable, and devoted to the betterment of this community. There isn’t a lazy or bad egg in the bunch. I feel the same way about my fellow candidates. Citizens will not suffer from a lack of dedication or good intention no matter who they elect this year. But I do bring some unique qualities to the table.
For one, I’m part of a younger demographic. This in itself is not an advantage. There is valuable wisdom and experience I lack when compared to my elders. But diversity of perspective provides strength and resilience to any group. In the same way we should seek a balance of men and women on the council, or backgrounds in the public and private sectors equitably represented, so too should we see the concerns and values of a younger generation voiced and considered. Being where I am in life gives me intimate knowledge of the needs and concerns of those citizens who are in the early stages of their careers and households. We’re working to build economic and social foundations in the community. Our values and technological literacy help us see challenges in new and useful ways.
I’m also an entrepreneur and co-owner of two local businesses. Southern Exposure LLC, a construction and excavation services company, brings me face to face with property owners, their budgets, and the challenges we face in keeping Homer an attractive place to live, while making sure that working people can still afford to live here. Homer Bookkeepers LLC, provides bookkeeping services to local businesses and nonprofits.
My work here provides a great deal of insight into our local economy. The path that money takes in and out of Homer is something I see on a daily basis. This awareness and the perspective it engenders, I feel, make me an asset in shaping city policy and budgets.
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