Zak, Newcomers Vie for Two Council Seats

     There are four candidates running for two open seats on the Homer City Council. Voters will have a chance to decide who will help make decisions for the city during the October 1st election: incumbent Bryan Zak or newcomers Justin Arnold, Gus Van Dyke and Corbin Arno.

     Attendance at Homer City Council meetings has been increasing over the last several months with issues like a winter grocery tax, the Homer Special Assessment District, a ban on plastic bags and the city’s new water and sewer rates. But for Justin Arnold, Gus Van Dyke and Corbin Arno, public comment isn’t enough anymore so they threw their hats into the ring.

     Arnold circulated a petition to get the plastic bag ban question on the October ballot. He said he understands environmental concerns, but the city council overstepped in this instance.

     “I don’t believe it really comes down to the plastic bags. I think there is a positive and negative to plastic… but the fact really comes down to me… does the government need to be in that aspect of our life,” he said.

     Bryan Zak was one of the council members in favor of the ban and stands by his vote.

     “Years and years ago when I was growing up, environmental concern was a big issue. Maybe we’ve lost touch, a little bit, about what individually we can do than together all of us having an impact on an area. So does government have a role to play in that? And, again, I say yes,” he said.

     Another contentious issue has been the city’s water and sewer rate structure. Some local business owners became so frustrated with the new scheme they created the “Homer Voice for Business” group. Candidate Corbin Arno is involved in that group and has said he’s running to stem the steady stream of new regulations that he says have been hurting business owners. 

     Gus Van Dyke said the overhauled rate plan makes sense to him and seems fair. Under the plan most users will pay a rate of .011 cents per gallon.

     “My feeling is a gallon of water is a gallon of water and it’s going to cost that amount of money for a gallon of water,” he said. 

     Arnold said more could be done to make sure the rates are fair for everyone on the system.

     “It’s pretty even. You pay so much for a gallon of water; you pay so much for a gallon of sewer if you’re on the basic system. I went and spoke to the new sewer rate committee when they were trying to get the new rates. I think the cost is too high though. All the way across the board,” he said.

     Zak was the lone “no” vote from the city council for the new rate structure, which takes effect Jan. 1 2014.   

     “And right now the reason I don’t feel it’s equitable and fair is that you’ve got a highly-cost-prohibitive system with the biggest users, our businesses, paying the highest costs,” he said.

     Candidates also are weighing in on the issue of a new public safety building for Homer. The council is in preliminary discussions about demolishing the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, or HERC building and replacing it with a proposed $15 million combined police station, fire hall and jail. Arnold said he isn’t sure that’s the best way to go. For him, it comes down to the money. 

     “Do we need it? How much is it going to cost each citizen? And why are we doing it in the first place? So we’re going to tear down a building that definitely has an ability to be used and is being used,” he said.

     Van Dyke agreed with Arnold. He said he’d like more community input before any decision is finally made.

     “I do believe that we need something to help our police department. I have been through that building and seen what it looks like. It is definitely a cramped building. But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t renovate to HERC building to be a new police station. I’m opposed right now to spending any kind of money on anything else the voters say hey, I think we really need it,” he said.

     Zak said he is concerned about the proposed location of the building. He also said there isn’t enough financial information for him to feel comfortable moving forward right now. And Zak said he’s hearing from citizens who want to keep a recreational building in town.

     “I think maybe a combination of all three: a recreational building, the fire and the police station all at once location. That might work,” he said.

     All three of the four candidates made their comments during this week’s edition of The Coffee Table, which aired on KBBI. Arno was unable to participate due to a schedule conflict.

     Voters will select two candidates to sit on the Homer City Council during the Oct. 1 election.