In Dramatic Shift, Council Votes for Spending Measures

     After months of debate, the 2014 City of Homer budget is finally finished. At its Monday meeting, the Homer City Council made the last few adjustments to the $26 million budget and signed off on the document.

     The difference between the budget discussion that took place at the last council meeting November 25th and the one that took place Monday was like night and day. Two weeks ago, the council was in budget-slashing mode, voting to cut money for the Pratt Museum and the Homer Foundation.

     At Monday’s meeting, however, the council not only restored those funds but also voted to spend more money on a handful of other items.

     It was council member David Lewis who proposed to undo much of what the council did at its last meeting, suggesting that $20,000 for the Pratt Museum and $19,000 for the Homer Foundation be put back into the budget.

     "I'm sure we will hear tonight form many people why that is important and I ... feel that those items need to be put back in," said Lewis. "We sort of blindsided those groups at the last meeting when they were taken out."

     Lewis was certainly right that plenty of residents would testify about the budget cuts. For about an hour-and-a-half, a steady stream of people made their feelings known on the subject.

     Former Homer Mayor Jim Hornaday sits on the Pratt Museum’s Board of Directors. He testified that several generations of his family – including his great-grandchildren – have enjoyed the museum over the years.

     "I'm really concerned that if you cut like you say you're going to cut, it's my understanding that there's going to have to be staff changes and ... that would be very difficult," said Hornaday.

     Hornaday said he sympathized that with rising health care costs, the city council is walking a financial tightrope. He suggested doing away with the seasonal tax holiday on non-prepared foods as a way to bring in more revenue.

     A handful of residents – including Paul Hueper – represented the group Homer Voice for Business. Hueper said the City of Homer is simply spending more money than it brings in, pointing out that city employees receive generous vacation time, including having their birthdays off.

     "Detroit gives paid birthdays," said Hueper. "I think the one way we're going to get this budget under control is to start getting ... reasonable about it. We don't have to follow the path of a Detroit."

     When it came time to vote, the council went about its business quickly, with much less discussion than at the November 25th meeting. By unanimous votes, the council voted to restore the funding for the Pratt Museum and the Homer Foundation, make a children’s librarian position full-time and spend $4,000 to create a “citizen’s academy.”

     Council member Barbara Howard has been bringing up the “citizen’s academy” idea for some time. She said it would modeled after a similar program conducted by the Alaska State Troopers that seeks to educate the public about what they do.