An effort to reinstate the City of Homer’s tax on non-prepared foods during the wintertime took a big step forward Monday night, when the Homer City Council voted to advance the issue toward a final vote December 10th.
The council is close to reversing a decision it made back in 2008, when it followed the lead of Kenai Peninsula Borough voters in creating a wintertime tax holiday ion non-prepared foods. Since that time, Homer residents have enjoyed a break from the 4.5 percent city sales tax at the grocery store. But the issue is back on the table, part of budget discussions for 2013.
Public testimony on the subject was mixed Monday night, with some folks – like Megan Murphy – in support of the effort.
"It seems like a common sense, forward-thinking thing to put back in to help multiple community programs," said Murphy.
Others – like former council member Ray Kranich – said the reinstatement of the tax would be regressive, affecting the poorest people of Homer the most.
"The people have spoken twice that they didn't want that tax on foods," said Kranich. "I think it's time for the city manager ... to sharpen that pencil a little more."
When it came time for the council to discuss the matter, most of the debate centered on what would be done with the extra money raised if the tax reinstatement measure passes December 10th.
Council members approved funding for several things, including the Homer Senior Center, the Homer Chamber of Commerce and a Cost of Living Allowance for city employees.
They also approved a small pay raise for themselves. Council member Beau Burgess argued that the relatively small increase to stipend paid to council members might encourage more diversity on the council.
Homer Mayor Beth Wythe said that when she first ran for city council – and then later for mayor – she did not expect any pay at all.
In the end, council members voted 4-2 to keep the pay raise for themselves, with council members Barbara Howard and David Lewis casting “no” votes.
Howard was the only council member to voice her opposition to the overall concept of reinstating the wintertime grocery tax. Several times she spoke out against it, suggesting that her fellow council members were putting the cart before the horse.
"I'm frustrated," said Howard. "If someone was listening to this, they'd think we had this pile of extra money and we're figuring out how to dole it out and we don't have extra money."
Also tied to the grocery tax issue is a proposal by Lewis to restrict the types of foods covered by the exemption. He would like to see several food items taken out, including ice cream, snack chips, soda, candy and microwavable frozen foods.
Lewis’ measure was also advanced at Monday’s meeting and will be addressed at the next council meeting. One more round of public comment on the grocery tax issue will be heard at that meeting December 10th and the council will take a final vote.