Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:25 PM on Wednesday, August 10, 2011

City starts annual budget process; manager to present draft Sept. 26



BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
STAFF WRITER

Like any legislative body, the Homer City Council has one act critical to the running of the city it must pass every year: a budget. At Monday afternoon's Committee of the Whole meeting, the council started the process that will culminate in a final budget to be passed by the end of the year.

City Manager Walt Wrede laid out the kind of budget he thought he would bring to the council.

"I'll bring you a budget that has the things we can afford," he said.

One idea Wrede raised was a cost of living allowance — recognition that compared to other civic employees working comparable jobs in Lower 48 cities, Homer's workers face higher living costs, such as for groceries and gas.

Mayor James Hornaday said he wants to see vacant positions filled. Wrede agreed with that.

"We've got people doing more than one job," he said. "That does lead to frustration and burnout and sometimes mistakes and sometimes things falling through the cracks."

At the same time, city employees could be asked to pay more for benefits like health care or see cuts in benefits. The council had previously said it would like to see an employee committee formed to give input on changes to their benefits. Wrede directed that to happen. Council member Kevin Hogan said he had concerns about an employee group being formed through the administration.

"The idea here is if there are going to be cuts to benefit programs, the employees have a chance to look into it and make recommendations," Wrede said. "We don't have to necessarily set it up as a union type organization."

"I just think it's a good idea, especially on this health care thing," Hornaday said of the employee committee.

Hornaday noted the biggest cost in government is employee salaries.

"That's what government is: the people," Wrede said.

"Is that a government or a bureaucracy?" council member Bryan Zak responded.

"It can be both," Wrede said. "It's a municipal corporation."

Council members also discussed the general philosophy of a budget and how far it wanted to go beyond the basics of public safety, sewer, water and roads.

"If you look at that perspective, you're going to come out with a budget," council member Beth Wythe said about a bare-basics budget. "I think everybody recognizes our revenues are just brushing against not being able to pay for everything."

"Here's kind of the way I see it," Wrede said about his budget proposal. "I'm the city manager. My primary job is to tell the council what I think we need to run the city, the core functions. ... Anything outside the city functions is a policy call."

Under the council's proposed budget development schedule, at the Sept. 26 meeting Wrede will present a draft budget to the council. Discussions will continue into November, with public hearings on Nov. 28 and Dec. 12, with final adoption on Dec. 12.

In other action, the council

• Amended city code regarding payment of parking violations in the harbor area and establishing that fines be paid to the city finance department and not the clerk,

• Accepted an Alaska Public Library Assistance grant of $6,500 with a local match of $7,000 for books and materials,

• Passed an ordinance amending zoning codes regarding use in the Conservation Zoning District.

• Introduced on first reading ordinances exempting drivers of vans with more than 15 passengers from having city chauffeur licenses, appropriating $22,000 from Port and Harbor Reserves for parking improvements at the Coast Guard parking area, and appropriating $24,000 to purchase narrow band radios for Public Works Department officials. A second reading and public hearing on those ordinances is at the Aug. 22 meeting.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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