By Chris Story
You know when you are watching a skilled magician — whether onstage or a street performance — you recognize the talent and discipline that allows slight of hand to appear magical.
“How’d he do that?”
Imagine David Blaine approaches you on the street with his camera crew in tow. As he performs a trick with a beer bottle, you notice he is palming a glass cutter in one hand. Then, “magically,” the bottom of the bottle falls off and your card floats to the sidewalk. Not so spellbinding right?
After the Nov. 25 Homer City Council meeting, I went to the airwaves of Alaska Matters Radio and revealed the secret to the council’s “Ace up the sleeve.”
My prediction was this: To secure the year-round, non-prepared foods sales tax, (repeal the voter-approved holiday on non-prepared foods during the dark, cold winter months), the Homer City Council — at the city manager’s urging, were about to take what appeared to be “bold steps.” The Council offered up monies to the recreation group in the amount of $35,000 for a needs assessment, and cut $19,000 for the Homer Foundation, and $20,000 from the Pratt Museum. from the budget.
While you were busy watching the pretty magician’s assistant walk to the other side of the stage, Councilman Burgess added $10,000 to the Chamber of Commerce appropriation for tourism marketing, (which they do a good job at, by the way). The least of my concerns here is that Councilman Burgess is the bookkeeper for the Homer Chamber of Commerce, and failed to publicly disclose that conflict while increasing the budget. That is something the mayor will be holding him to task for.
No, my concern is the divisive nature of what the council was actually doing. That is to say, without any real attempt at cloaking their moves, the council was arbitrarily establishing a coalition of user groups to come before the council and, on record state, by all means, restore our funding by any means; even a non-prepared foods tax.
Or, in the case of audience members who were on the receiving end of the previous budget amendments, by all means keep our appropriation in the budget by any means; even if we have to pay a little more in foods tax.
In fact, former Mayor Jim Hornaday showed up to testify in favor of restoring funding to the Pratt and the Homer Foundation; “You should seriously consider putting the food sales tax on year-round.”
One person even suggested it’s time to add a bed tax; and many others suggested that paying the food tax was the answer.
At some point, raising taxes may be the answer; but to what question? The question being asked right now is, “How can we continue to spend at current levels and add more and more obligations, while squirreling away as much as possible for future use without consent or request of the community.” (Think remodel of city hall, design funds for future buildings we may or may not get funding for and may or may not be able to afford to maintain.)
The job of a leader is to make the right call, even when it’s a tough call. The current city manager invites litigation into our community; look no further than what he told Ken Halpin after the manhole in a creek bed failed, flooding his home with sewage. “Sue us.”
Walt Wrede, according to the current city budget, is costing the city $220,000 plus annually in salary, benefits and retirement. What is the real cost to your community for his lack of leadership? That’s a question I find myself asking frequently.
Yes, at some point, increasing sales tax on potatoes, lettuce, flour and sugar may in fact be the answer. But in an age where we have “windfalls” of more than a half million dollars that we can tuck away, we have $32,000 to spend with an Anchorage attorney to keep from upholding a promise to plow a small portion of Beluga Lake for ice skating (recreation by the way); $18,000 to spend on iPads for our officials; $20,000 for the public works director to squander on surveying the wrong location for a trail across someone else’s land; $35,000 available to study whether or not we need a recreational department, and ample funds are available to establish a “citizens academy”; then I say no to any “new” taxes right now.
If the non-prepared foods sales tax is reinstated on a year-round basis, the proceeds are estimated to be $900,000. This is nearly $1 million out of your pockets and into the council’s. Who can spend your money more wisely?
What we need is leadership; by all means.
Chris Story is a lifelong Alaskan, and broker/owner of Story Real Estate. He also hosts “Alaska Matters Radio,” heard Tuesdays from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on KGTL.
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