Searching for city’s elusive ‘missing million’

By Chris Story

For almost six years now, on Radio Realty, you’ve heard me say, “You really can make a million bucks in your own backyard!”
It’s true; right now in your hometown, there are those who are investing, building and working toward their own personal fortune. A caterpillar who spies a butterfly floating through the air on brilliant wings, has one of the following reactions: “Why can’t I fly? Who does that butterfly think he is, flying all over the place?”
Or… “Wow, I knew him when he was a caterpillar, if he can do it, so can I!”
Just think of it; you can make your mark on the world and love what you’re doing all the while. Now that is living on purpose.
It’s while thinking of inspiring ideas such as this that Mayor Beth Wythe’s words ring in my ears:
“We are losing upwards of a million dollars a year because we only collect sales tax on nonprepared foods part of the year.”
First, as a government, we don’t earn anything. Ergo, you keeping more money in your pockets with reduced taxation is not a loss to the city.
Secondly, if the city is not collecting this “million dollars,” then where does it go?
Does this “million” vanish into the ether? Do you and I grab fistfuls of cash and head to the nearest public restroom and flush it down the drain?
Of course not. This supposed “missing” million, stays in our pockets. It’s money that stays in your account to spend, invest and do with as you please. You earned it!
The savings on nonprepared foods sales tax is modest. It’s not as though there is a million dollar jackpot split up once a year paying out dividends that are spent on tickets to Honolulu.
The savings you and I enjoy on this tax break are spent right here, in our own backyard. Perhaps you can stretch your food budget a little further. Maybe you purchase a lunch out, subject to sales tax by the way. Or, perhaps, if you often experience a little more month at the end of the money, this savings can fill that void — even if just slightly.
Many people are discussing the elimination of sales tax on nonprepared foods year-round. If this appears on the ballot in the fall, and you, the citizens of Homer, opt for this measure; would the City of Homer have to shutter the windows, lock the doors and abandon ship? Would we all dry up and wither into the Bay?
Of course not. The City Council may have to reconsider some budget expenditures. Like what you say? Perhaps there wouldn’t be an extra $4,000 to put on a six-week course called “Citizens Academy.” Maybe, instead of allocating $20,000 to survey a slope that the staff engineer knew wouldn’t suffice as a trail, a little common sense is employed before the bank of “YOU” is tapped.
I know — instead of spending $32,000 in court defending the indefensible, the City Council would see to it to honor the commitment made in 1983 to Mr. Neal when he generously donated the land on Beluga Lake. Incidentally, how many times would the city have had to plow the lake this year do you think so far?
The missing million has been found, right where it belongs — in your hands. Spend it as you choose, you earned it!

Chris Story is a lifelong Alaskan, and broker and owner of Story Real Estate. He is also host of “Alaska Matters Radio,” heard Tuesdays from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on KPEN.

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Posted by on Jan 28th, 2014 and filed under Point of View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Response for “Searching for city’s elusive ‘missing million’”

  1. Beth Wythe says:

    Mr. Story provides a compelling story by taking information out of context. Certainly not collecting sales tax on food year around has a substantial financial impact on the ability of the City to fulfill the many obligations that have been approved by the voters (i.e., paying for the library, community schools, maintaining roadways in the winter, etc.), and certainly there are legal issues that face the City periodically which require decisions to be made to limit potentially larger liabilities the financial repercussions of which would certainly become the responsibility of the tax payers. However, the Council is an elected body and they are charged with making the best decisions they can with the information that is available.

    I appreciate Chris’s concern for the collection of sales tax on foods, and that is why I have been the staunchest supporter of not putting the tax back in place without a vote. It is important to note that changes at the Borough level have placed the ability to levy this particular tax squarely in the control of the Council. The Homer City Council is the only first-class city in the Borough that elected to honor the vote of the people and eliminate the City Sales Tax for non-prepared foods on a seasonal basis (a decision that they are often chided for by representatives from other communities that did not make the same choice). The Council does not require a vote to reinstate the tax, but it would be preferable from my perspective.

    It is unfortunate that Mr. Story elects to take cheap shots at the Council, yet is not offering any solutions to the financial dilemmas the Council is required to face on a regular basis, other than; ignore your responsibility to minimize the City’s liability; or, don’t bother to provide educational opportunities for citizens to develop a broader understanding of the legal processes of local government.

    No matter what actions the Council takes, the cost of operating the City will continue to increase just as the cost of living increases. Action needs to be taken to increase our economic basis or additional revenues will need to be raised through taxes. Rest assured that while we may not be taking action in the way that Mr. Story sees fit, the Council is working to improve the financial situation of the City without changing our taxes. Maybe Mr. Story would like to be amongst those enrolling in the Citizens Academy to develop a more accurate understanding of how our local government works.

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