Is the city living beyond its means?

By Hannah Heimbuch and Sean Pearson

Usually reserved for vexed parents and their young children, Homer has been redefining the phrase “potty talk” as of late. And no, that doesn’t mean there’s been more four letter words at City Council meetings. We’re talking about bathrooms – the ones perched on either end of Pioneer Avenue, as well as down on the Spit – to be exact.
They’re very nice, with heated floors, and some say they are even necessary. Like a watch or a belt. Accessories are great, and maybe even useful. However, when your primary need is to know what time it is, do you really need to get it from a Rolex? Or will that neon green watch you got in sixth grade, that remains dutifully indestructible, work just as well?
The same question can be posed about the $200,000 — each — restrooms that now offer a very basic function at a very high price in Homer’s downtown. Does the expenditure match the service? And better yet, does it match a message of belt-tightening and conservative financial decisions residents have been hearing from their city?
Perhaps it has more to do with how each person, or city, defines the actual tightening of one’s belt.
There’s no doubt our leaders have faced difficult decisions, and little doubt that they are actually looking for solutions. There’s also no doubt that the things they fund are nice things; but there is nice, and then there’s necessary.
It wasn’t that long ago, 2007, to be exact, that the City doled out funds on studies for a new town center/square/plaza. Suggestions for the new $11.8 million “city center” included everything from fountains, courtyards, climbing walls and a bandstand, to fancy “fire features” and a labyrinth alongside the new city hall.
There’s a reason Homer folks voted that down. If the bond had passed, it might be difficult for the current council and city officials, seven years later, to explain why such an elaborate structure/compound was so necessary amid the needs of a city that is currently struggling so much to make ends meet.
The “necessary” recreational needs study survived budget revisions and was funded to the tune of $35,000 at the last meeting. Certainly a study of Homer’s recreational “wants” would be helpful, but is it something we really need?
And while the much-touted citizen’s academy is another banner idea, it’s not necessarily an essential component to life.
These are all good ideas, but are they necessary good ideas? Buying a new car may be a good idea, but that doesn’t make it necessary — or even practical. Sometimes a diminishing budget begs you to stick with those used wheels a little longer.
It’s easy to look back at spending that wound up being fruitless and unnecessary. We have no crystal ball. But, by the same token, money doesn’t grow on trees.
Many local families are currently struggling to make a living and keep food on the table. The idea that people in the community should just “get used” to it being an expensive place to live is unacceptable — not when it’s clear that there are still areas where conservative spending has not been prioritized.
Some have suggested the city look at outsourcing some of its services, such as road maintenance, while others said the benefits to city employees, including personal leave, were excessive.
A brief list of benefits provided to full-time employees for the City of Homer is available on the City’s website.
Employees receive 11 paid holidays a year, plus their birthday, and accrue leave at a very impressive rate. Even in your first year of employment, you get an entire month of paid leave — plus five days of sick leave. By the time you reach your third year, you’ll have 41 days of paid leave available.
In 1943, American developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In it, he developed what he called a “hierarchy of needs,” which, in a nutshell, explains how humans must have basic needs like food, shelter and safety met before they can start to develop things like self-esteem and self-actualization.
The catch with Maslow’s theory, surprisingly enough, is that one cannot move up the hierarchy of human needs — toward self-actualization and self-enlightenment — until one’s basic needs are met.
I’m not sure where $200,000 toilets fall in Maslow’s hierarchy, though I’m guessing it’s not among the first couple pillars of survival. But then, that’s just one angle on it.
Maybe your idea of belt-tightening is skipping one latté a week, while another’s might translate into only eating two meals per day; or sending their kids to school without any breakfast.
It’s all about perspective.

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Posted by on Feb 12th, 2014 and filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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