By Carey Restino
Each year, the City of Homer takes on the task of ranking its future capital projects in an effort to present its most pressing needs to the Alaska Legislature and other funding sources.
In past years, council members have each been given a sheet of projects and told to rank them individually. The rankings were then tallied and a list was created. This year, the council will sacrifice a Saturday to hash it out in person. And there will be other changes, too. The list will be shorter — only five projects will be presented for legislative requests. And projects that are not city projects will not be included. In the past, projects of organizations that are not city entities were included in the list as a way of showing the city’s support for the capital campaigns. This year, that support will be shown by resolution the city staff propose.
The council hopes to have a draft legislative request as well as capital improvements plan ready following the Saturday meeting to be brought before the council for public hearing on Aug. 26.
Two new City of Homer projects have been proposed, but will not be included without prior approval. They are a firearms training facility for the southern Kenai Peninsula, brought by the Homer Police Department and an IT server virtualization and WMAN improvement brought by the Homer Information Technology department.
Five non-city organizations have requested addition to the list, including hillside reinforcements to the bluff behind the South Peninsula Hospital, new turf for the Homer High School, safety upgrades to the Ohlson Mountain rope tow and natural gas conversion for the Homer Senior Citizens organization.
In other news, the council:
• Heard a report from City Manager Walt Wrede regarding the city’s need to solve the problem of escalating health care costs for its employees. As the city council starts its budget process, the health care costs are the main issue, he said.
“The health insurance plan is probably the biggest thing,” Wrede said. “It’s the 900-pound gorilla in the room. Despite our efforts to contain costs, they continue to escalate quickly.”
In addition, the city must consider staffing issues in a few departments this year, he said. One of the most chronically understaffed positions is the public safety dispatch office, a position that is hard to recruit and retain people for, Wrede reported.
“We are racking up a heck of a lot of overtime because of it,” he said.
Information technology department staffing is also an issue, Wrede said, as IT becomes more and more critical to each city department. The city’s parks and recreation department staffing has not kept up with added infrastructure, either, he said.
Other budget concerns include an unused building near the corner of Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway, which used to house the Homer Boys and Girls Club, but now will no longer be doing so, Wrede said.
On the plus side, however, Wrede reported that initial reports indicate a favorable revenue stream for the community this year. Sales taxes are expected to be up and the planning department is reporting a building boom of sorts, which will hopefully result in increased property tax revenue as well.
“I am hopeful about our revenue stream this year,” Wrede said.
• Wrede said that the Poopdeck Trail area is being looked at by the city following the death of an individual on the trail that has been ruled a homicide. Wrede said the city is discussing what can be done to make that area safer with adjacent property owners and land that is city property will be cleared of small brush in an effort to make it easier to see along the trail.
“We want the community to know we are taking a serious look at making our trails in Homer a safer place to be,” Wrede said.
• Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Bill Smith reported to the council that several issues will be before voters this fall, including changes to the allowable property tax personal exemption, a vote on term limits and a $23 million bond for school improvements.
The bond issue will primarily pay for roof improvements to borough schools, though artificial turf for the Homer High School’s football field is also part of it.
The question of term limits for elected officials on the borough assembly will be considered by voters and will be a two part question, Smith said, asking voters if the limits should be imposed and if so, should officials be limited to two or three terms.
• Recognized the Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary Club for its adoption off the Ben Walters Park. Mayor Beth Wythe recognized the rotary club for the extensive work it has done at the park, including painting and improvements to the public bathrooms, parking lot improvements, improvements to the floating dock, litter pick up and flowers.
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