By Carey Restino
Despite an already tight budget, the Homer City Council approved two additions to the budget Monday night totaling $45,000 – funding for an assessment of recreational needs and an increase to the Homer Chamber of Commerce.
The city of Homer is poised to move forward with a needs assessment geared at understanding what recreational assets and improvements are needed and supported in Homer and what a plan for meeting those needs might look like.
At Monday night’s city council meeting, an amendment was approved to the city budget appropriating $35,000 to fund the Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment. The funds would come from the planning reserves fund and the parks reserve fund.
Matt Steffy, who sits on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, presented an overview for the council Monday night on what such an assessment might look like. Essentially, such assessments typically evaluate what resources exist in the community, what opportunities exist to enhance those resources and what the community wants. Steffy said the assessment could answer questions such as how much time community members spend recreating, how many volunteer for organizations, and how much money people spend on recreation.
The assessment could look at both nonprofit resources and private sector businesses that are providing recreational opportunities for the community, as well as unused or underused resources in the community – buildings that are sitting empty or people with skills that aren’t being taken advantage of.
Steffy said the idea of having a third-party agency come in and do the assessment and present the city with recommendations is better than doing a survey online or through the mail because these entities “don’t have a dog in the fight.”
“Their pure interest is to be unbiased, factual and provide a functional report of that assessment,” said Steffy.
Councilman David Lewis asked Steffy if the assessment could also be tasked with finding out how the community would like to pay for recreation. Absolutely, said Steffy, and it can also look at who should pay for these resources — just city residents or the larger community of Homer.
Steffy noted that in his opinion, Homer is a very unique community with so many opportunities and options for what people can do with their spare time.
“I don’t know many communities that for the size of Homer have the sheer number of nonprofits, groups and organizations, all fairly passionately involved in embracing some sort of mission,” Steffy said.
Steffy said it isn’t resources Homer lacks but a cohesive vision that will allow the community to plan for the management of its recreational opportunities over the next decade and beyond. He said the plan would allow the city to know what people are truly interested in pursuing. “This would give it statistical value, it’s not just campaigning, we’re searching for actual facts.”
Councilwoman Francie Roberts asked if other statistical information gathering done by other organizations might be able to be used in the report rather than reinventing the wheel. Steffy said yes, as long as it covered the same areas or the surveys could be expanded using the exact questions asked in the first survey.
Kate Crowley, who has been involved in a local effort to get more recreation programs in Homer, and possibly a recreation facility constructed in coming years, said her group needs the data a recreation assessment would provide to pursue options such as a recreation service area. Supporters of that effort have raised more than $5,000 to contribute to the cost of the assessment.
“We need to know what people think about that,” Crowley said. “We want something to succeed.”
The idea got the support of several people who testified at this week’s meeting, including Kathy Beachy, who said with three teenage boys, and the schools clamping down on who can use those spaces, the town needs more support for activities like the Homer Little League, which she is affiliated with.
“We are very excited about this and pledge our support,” she said.
The council also approved an increase to the Homer Chamber of Commerce funding from the city, which pays for the Chamber’s promotion of the community through advertising and other forms.
Councilman Beauregard Burgess proposed the additional funding, saying it was money well spent. Burgess said compared to other communities, which typically fund the operation of their visitor’s centers, the community of Homer, which depends largely on tourists for its economy, is getting a significant value for the amount of money it puts toward the chamber.
“You have to spend money to make money,” Burgess said.
Councilwoman Barbara Howard, however, said she would not support the proposed increase because the chamber doesn’t support a sales tax increase or a bed tax. Hers was the single vote in opposition of the increase, which will come from the city’s general fund.
Chamber director Jim Lavrakas thanked the council for its increase, and said the chamber would be happy to sit down and talk with Howard about her concerns.
“Thank you all for having faith in the Chamber and renewing your contract with us for 2014,” Lavrakas said.
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