The Homer City Council debated a slew of budget amendments for the better part of an hour at its meeting Monday night and, as in any budget discussion, there were winners and losers.
The council has been poring over the 2014 budget for weeks now, with the deadline for finalizing that document drawing ever closer. At its Monday meeting, council members hashed out a number of budget amendments in a conversation that sometimes grew a little testy.
One of the items that received the most public comment was a proposal to spend $35,000 on a needs assessment for parks and recreation in Homer. The council OK’ed that money, which was requested by the parks and recreation commission.
Another $50,000 was approved to fund a position for a new dispatcher in the Homer Police Department and council also saw fit to give more money to the Homer Chamber of Commerce.
Council member Beau Burgess defended the extra $10,000 for the chamber, saying the tourism money is necessary to keep up with other cities, like Seward.
"They're an organization that markets us," said Burgess. "You've got to spend money to make money and this is one of those things where $10,000 goes a heck of a lot further than it costs us. We see it back in our sales tax revenue."
Burgess also promised to bring forward another budget amendment that would give a $7,200 pay raise to council members, restoring their pay to pre-recession levels. That amendment did not come up Monday night.
A proposal from council member Barbara Howard to fund three seasonal Emergency Medical Technicians by cutting funding for the Homer Foundation and the city lobbyist failed on a 4-to-2 vote. But a modified amendment – that funds two EMT positions by cutting funding from the Homer Foundation and the Pratt Museum – came down to a crucial vote.
Homer Mayor Beth Wythe broke a 3-3 tie with a "yes" vote. The vote means a pretty significant cut in funding of $19,000 for the Homer Foundation and $20,000 for the Pratt Museum.
An over-arching theme Monday night was what city services are important to the citizens of Homer and which ones are people willing to pay for.
To that end, council member David Lewis promised that in January, he will bring back an issue that has been debated for years – the reinstatement of the city’s wintertime sales tax on non-prepared foods.
"In the past, we have put our heads on the chopping block and people have said they don't want it," said Lewis. "Okay, fine. Then we will just have to cut (and) you won't have parks and rec. You won't have those things. It's time to put up or shut up."
There seems to be broad support on the council for bringing back the grocery tax, which is something it has the power to do without a vote of the people. Burgess and council member Barbara Howard both expressed support for bringing back the tax.
Burgess acknowledged that Homer voters have made their feelings known on the grocery tax issue.
"I think we're getting a pretty clear message from the people of Homer ... that they would like lots of things and they would not like to pay for them," said Burgess.
During a work session earlier Monday, Mayor Beth Wythe also broached the subject of the grocery tax, saying the public could use some education on the effects the tax holiday has had on the city budget.
The council will have one more round of budget discussions at its next meeting December 9th. The public will also have one last chance to testify on the subject at that time.