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City council candidates square off at forum

Renee Gross, KBBI News

Candidates for Homer City Council squared off at a forum Wednesday night. Residents packed the city’s public library to hear the candidates speak on issues such as housing, social services and the environment.

Four candidates are vying for two open spots on Homer’s city council. Council members Tom Stroozas  and Shelly Erickson are both incumbents while Storm Hansen-Cavasos and Joey Evensen are both newcomers to local government.

During the candidate forum, the four residents disagreed on how to address affordable housing. Council member Stoozas said he hopes the federal government will provide funds to deal with the issue.

Council member Erickson, on the other hand, spoke about the importance of having a vision for Homer’s community.

“Do we want it to be for people with special needs or do we want to change it and maybe make it more along the line of a business-type community?” Erickson asked. “So I think that we have some hard issues that we actually need to talk through before we can actually give incentive for somebody to come and put a lot of extra housing in.”

Evensen suggested trying to change the state code to increase taxes on vacation homes.

“The higher tax kind of helps compensate for the amount of money that you spend there because by buying that vacation home you help lift up the property values, which is a trend that has been going on in Homer for a very long time," he said. 

Hansen-Cavasos did not mention how exactly she would address the problem but empasized that it was especially a struggle for middle and low-income residents.

As for the issue of homelessness, she said she would fully support a shelter.

“It gets cold and they're [the homeless] on our streets and they're sitting outside Safeway,” she said.

Council member Erickson agreed and spoke about her work trying to establish a cold weather shelter in the area.   

Evensen wants to see more collaboration with nonprofits such as Haven House and the food pantry to address the underlying causes of homelessness. But  Stroozas suggested that homelessness is best addressed outside of the council entirely.

“The role of accommodating homelessness is best facilitated by religious and charitable organizations,” he said. “They've exhibited much success in that arena.”

The candidates spoke about a range of priorities they would have if elected into office. Stoozas emphasized finalizing plans for the Homer Education and Recreation Complex and making Homer more energy efficient. Hansen-Cavasos stressed the importance of youth recreation and affordable daycare.  

“When my oldest son was in middle school, we had Boys and Girls Club," she said. “I think that's vital for the community. I would really like to find a task force that can tackle that and find ways to bring it back.”

Erickson said she hoped to focus on the city’s budget and on updating old manuals and policies. In contrast, Evensen said he wants to highlight the importance of natural resources and recreation to the community.

“That can help drive our economy in stronger ways than it has in the past,” he said. “I have some ideas about beautification and possibly architectural improvements via some incentives.”

Evensen and Hansen-Cavasos both spoke in full support of the thin plastic bag ban on the ballot this October. The council passed a plastic bag ban back in 2012 but it was overturned by a citizen’s initiative. Both Stroozas and Erickson said it’s essential the bag ban question goes to voters.

“I think everybody needs to vote their conscience on it,” Erickson said.

The audience was mostly quiet during the evening’s forum but many residents booed candidate Stroozas after his closing statement. Stroozas took the opportunity in his last minute to call out another candidate’s behavior.

“Public officials must be ready and willing to respond to citizens when faced with questions wherever they may meet and not ignore constituents as candidate Joey did last week at the post office when I asked a question of him, and he stated that I could read it online, and then he walked away,” Stroozas said.

The election is on October 1.

Renee joined KBBI in 2017 as a general assignment reporter and host. Her work has appeared on such shows as Weekend Edition Saturday, The World, Marketplace and Studio 360. Renee previously interned as a reporter for KPCC in Los Angeles and as a producer for Stateside at Michigan Radio. Her work has earned her numerous press club awards. She holds an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in women's studies from the University of Michigan.