Need funding? Put year-round sales tax back on food, says mayor

By Carey Restino
Homer Tribune
The Homer City Council heard the first wave of pleas regarding its proposed budget , but council members expressed frustration at those who asked for items to be funded by the city without explaining where those funds would come from.
Residents testified in favor of an expanded position at the library for more children’s services as well as increased funding for the Homer Chamber of Commerce for promoting the town to visitors. The Homer Council on the Arts, one of many nonprofits to be funded by the city through the Homer Foundation, testified in favor of continued funding.
Former preschool educator Lisa Asselin told the council the library’s children’s programs were a huge asset to the community, and spoke in favor of increasing the staffing for those programs. She said that the children’s programs are so popular that the crowds of attendees may start to be too much for some participants.
When asked by Homer City Council Mayor Beth Wythe if she would support putting a year-round tax on groceries back in place to raise funds for such a position, Asselin said absolutely.

The council also heard from Homer Chamber of Commerce Director Jim Lavrakas, who testified that the Homer Chamber would like to see an increase in funding for promotion of the community from $41,000 to $50,000. Lavrakas said the chamber is unique in that it does not receive funding support for maintaining its visitor center from the city. He said he is moving away from promotion of chamber events in the local newspapers and toward more online advertising as well advertising in organizations such as Alaska Magazine.
“I promise to scrutinize all marketing dollars going out of the chamber doors,” he said, noting that the chamber is considering such innovative ideas as having a presence on 4th Avenue in Anchorage.
This year’s city budget proposed by the city manager in general holds the line, helped by a slight boost in sales tax revenue.
“On the expenditure side, this can basically be described as a ‘status quo’ or ‘treading water’ budget,” wrote city staff in its preamble to the budget as proposed. “The budget is ‘balanced’ in the sense that expenditures do not exceed revenues.”
But trouble lies in the ever-expanding cost of health care coverage for the city employees. If the city had offered the same health plan it offered in previous years to its staff, it would have cost more than $2,000 per person per month. Instead, the city slimmed down its health plan, covering an estimated $1,500 per person. As a peace offering for this diminishment in coverage, a 2 percent cost of living increase is budgeted in for all employees, something they have not received for five years.
Wythe said in the council meeting that she had concerns about being able to attract qualified employees to the city given the limited resources it had to provide compensation with.
Councilman Beau Burgess noted that the proposed budget is a “substantial hit” for city staff.
“It is not a perfect scenario,” he said.
Burgess noted that while tax revenues came in higher than expected, that does not mean that the city has excess funds. He noted that the city has been taking money out of its reserves to balance the budget for years now.
“We’ve been running down all our rainy day funds,” he said. “Right now we are burning money.î”
Councilman David Lewis told the audience that he would love to see many of the projects that the community is promoting – soccer fields, the hockey rink funded, new librarian positions.
“But we just don’t have the money,” he said. “Unless we find the money somewhere else, we won’t be doing that. When you come up here and ask us for something, please give us an idea where to get the money from.”

In other news, the city council

• Introduced an ordinance extending the amount of time a property can be allowed to discontinue a nonconforming use before losing its grandfather rights to operate that use from 12 months to 24 months, referring the ordinance to the planning commission for review. Councilman Bryan Zak originally suggested three years as an appropriate extension time, but the council amended it to two years.

• Reappointed Francie Roberts as mayor pro tempore.

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Posted by on Oct 30th, 2013 and filed under Headline News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses for “Need funding? Put year-round sales tax back on food, says mayor”

  1. here's the money says:

    “Homer windfall from jack-up rig docking raises spending questions”

    “The Buccaneer Energy Ltd. jack-up drilling rig that spent several unexpected months docked on the Homer Spit last winter brought the city a windfall in property tax and docking fees: a total of more than $750,000. Most of that will go into a port enhancement fund and into the city permanent fund”

    Read more here:

    The city can redirect money from the harbor. The one million dollar bathroom collection was just over the top, now redirect this money to the community. Why are tourists ( one cruise ship came to town this year!) more important than the entire citizenry of Homer?

    We need to have an open audit of the funds that the city does have available.

    When the city council wanted $300,000 for plans for a new 15 million dollar police station…hey no problem, we have money for that.

    Other communities like Soldotna, Kenai and Sterling have city councils that lobbied the state for money for their community centers….and they got it.

    Our city council only considers a 15 million dollar police/fire station an important asset to the community.

    As the Chamber of Commerce asks for money to advertise Homer to the world, it might be worthwhile to examine what we have to offer as a community and what we will have to offer if we continue down this path.

    It would be more important to have a happy healthy population to bring in visitors to our community than a absurdly huge police station as travelers drive into town.

    The Chamber of Commerce would be wise to lobby the city council to provide the community center that people have been asking for ( in the HERC location given to the city for this purpose) instead of the planned gigantic unnecessary contribution to police state America in our tiny town at the end of the road!

    We hardly have any crime, this police station is absurd.

    We do have thousands of people that would like a community center.

    Why are a few criminals and the comfort of the police more important than the entire community of Homer?

    The money is always there when the city council wants their own pet project, it’s time to start demanding our city money is used for what the citizens of the city want. This is not a dictatorship…or is it?

  2. deb says:

    we would be a million dollars to the good if they hadn’t built 4 bathrooms that no one really needed… there are good seasonal port a potties they could have used. You hear the cost to build but they also bought land… the one down pioneer was listed at 126,000 who knows what they paid for that… and now.. there is the art cost too!

    Clearly our mayor is not capable of looking at the big picture… tax food, throw children in the street, but build bathrooms and fancy cop shops and fire halls… and spend money on themselves.. but tax food, water, hey why don’t we tax air? every citizen young and old if you breathe in Homer you owe 45 a month… start paying…

    but don’t let business grow, make sure we keep business away from our fair town.. we need parks, and bike paths and sensual places to linger… we don’t need anymore business fouling our town…. well unless they are friends of the council… or have their nose up the managers …… I agree we need an audit of the money the city takes in and how they spend it…. we need some accountability and we need a new council…we need some real leadership…

    the city that works is not working for us..

  3. Same broken record says:

    How about the city council shut up about the sales tax? We have voted it down enough times for them to understand…I thought. We understand that no sales tax means that the city cannot fund all the pet projects that people want. The sales tax on food should be eliminated year round, it is the most regressive type of tax there is.

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