Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:37 PM on Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Council sticks to budget, kills travel request

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

At its last meeting when it passed a leaner 2011 budget, after the Homer City Council asked departments to take cuts, the council walked the talk, too, by cutting its own budget. It slashed salaries and zeroed out travel, leaving just $2,000 for "subsistence" — food and lodging.

Monday night, the council stuck to its guns. In response to a memorandum seeking $2,400 to pay airfare, lodging and per diem for Mayor James Hornaday and council member Bryan Zak to attend the Alaska Municipal League conference in Juneau, the council killed it 3 to 2 — and that was after Hornaday said he'd attend on his own dime.

An amendment authorizing a reduced appropriation of $700 to pay part of Zak's expenses also failed. The memorandum was initiated by the request of Hornaday and Zak to attend AML, but written before the mayor indicated he would pay his own way.

"I just can't support this," council member Barbara Howard said. "We just do not have the money now. For the council to come back one meeting later and ask for travel — as wonderful as these conferences are, right now I can't morally support this."

In discussions at the committee of the whole meeting before the regular meeting, Howard had questioned where the money would come from. A fiscal note on the memorandum noted there was no money in the budget to fund the travel request.

"As I understand, we don't have any money for this. In order for money to be applied, it has to come from somewhere else," Hornaday said.

Hornaday made it clear at the committee of the whole that he would pay his own way and wasn't asking the city for any money.

Zak said he thought it useful for city officials to attend AML meetings. AML is a conference of Alaska's local governing bodies, and offers council and assembly members and city officials and staff the chance to meet, network and get training.

"We heard from Sen. Stevens the importance of being represented at AML," Zak said, referring to a meeting last Friday with Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and the council. "I think it's going to have a benefit."

Council members Francie Roberts and David Lewis also spoke against the appropriation.

"Considering our budgetary issues, sending two people to one meeting doesn't make any sense at this time," Roberts said.

Lewis said that since the council funded a police officer position without an assurance it could fund that position in 2012 or beyond, the council needed to be fiscally conservative.

"I want to thank the mayor for going and taking it out of his pocket," Lewis said. "I think we're going to need to pay attention to every single penny in the budget. ... Anything that we can save now will help that later."

Zak said he wouldn't be disappointed by the memorandum failing.

"If you want me to go, I'll go. I'm not going to have any heartburn," he said.

On an amendment introduced by council member Kevin Hogan voting to cap the travel request at $700, the council voted 3 in favor, 2 against, with Roberts, Zak and Hogan in favor.

On the final vote, Roberts joined the no votes, with only Hogan and Zak in favor. Both the amendment and main motion failed.

City code requires the mayor and council members to get authorization to travel. Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson said she would introduce a memorandum at the Jan. 25 regular meeting authorizing travel for Hornaday with the understanding he would his air fare, lodging, meals and other expenses.