Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:35 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Questions & Answers :
     Homer City Council

1. What do you see as the most important role of a Homer City Council member and why do you want the job?

Beau Burgess: There is no single most important role of a City Council member. Our job is to represent, as best we can, the will of the people of Homer, one issue at a time. This means listening, studying and acting with the long-term interests of the community in mind – playing whatever roll is necessary to intelligently guide our community forward.

Nobody in their right mind wants this job, but some, like myself, feel that if you have the time and are able, then you have a duty to serve your community, in some fashion. As a local small business owner, a member of a younger demographic and as a resident living outside the core Homer service area, I feel uniquely able to discuss and contribute to issues in ways that other councilmembers are not.

James Dolma: The City of Homer's mission is to provide quality services to all its citizens and to respond in the most appropriate, open and fiscally responsible manner possible to citizens' needs and concerns. The city council sets policy and supervises the city manager to implement those policies.

I believe in this mission statement and will listen, deliberate and approve a budget which reflects the community's values while keeping taxes to the lowest possible levels without reducing needed services.

I want to serve on the Homer City Council as a way to give back to my community, and I believe I have the time and skills to be effective in this position. I will continue to be as dedicated and diligent on the Council as I currently am on the Homer Planning Commission.

Francie Roberts: It is the responsibility of a council member to educate himself or herself on each issue before the council and make a decision that the council member believes is in the best interest of the citizens of Homer. I have been on the council for the past six years and I would like to serve one last term to assist in the completion of several projects I have worked on.

2. What tops your city to-do list? Why?

Beau Burgess: It may not be sexy, but INFRASTRUCTURE, is at the top of my list. I want every business and house in Homer to have easy access to natural gas, so that families can afford to live here and businesses can afford to compete from here.

We can play with the water and sewer rates all we like, but the simple truth is that rates will only go down if more people connect. The city needs to take the lead here by both expanding and infilling these services across town.

As someone with no running water, who still uses an outhouse, but who pays city property tax, I know firsthand what the inequities of city infrastructure are. The City needs to provide access to quality, affordable infrastructure and service to everyone. Otherwise, what's the point of living in the City?

James Dolma: As a new council member, I will begin by working with others on the upcoming annual budget. I feel it is important to work with the whole council and staff to identify areas for focus. I do not have an agenda but I want the Council to continue to craft policies that are clear, fair and reflect input from the public and fiscal realities.

Francie Roberts: The extension of the gas line to all Homer citizens tops my list. I think it is important to extend the line to as many Homer citizens' properties as possible. The arrival of natural gas in Homer can help improve the bottom line of many of our businesses. The city has the potential to assist citizens to access the gas line via favorable financing.

3. What are your top three budget priorities? If you had to cut the city budget, what's the first place you would cut?

Beau Burgess: There aren't many things on the budget I would cut. The City and previous councils have done a good job in keeping the budget balanced and in maintaining a healthy reserve. That being said, I would work to increase the reserve, and make a priority of investing mainly in capital projects that economically benefit the city and residents; better firefighting facilities and equipment help lower insurance rates for all; intelligent Port and Harbor improvements expand commercial opportunity and create jobs; expanding city services lowers costs to end users, adds to quality of life, and increases the tax base.

I would avoid the temptation to overspend on projects that only benefit a small group, or that do not offer, in lieu of an economic benefit, the greatest benefit to the public happiness and health.

James Dolma: I read the entire 2012 budget and I will review the new budget draft when it is presented with openness keeping in mind the need for fiscal responsibility. If I had to cut the city budget, I would not cut in one area. Each area would have to be carefully reviewed to see how reductions in funds would affect the city and its citizens as a whole.

Francie Roberts: Transportation, safety and utilities are the three most important services the city provides and should never be totally eliminated. These primary services include fire services, police services, ambulance services, road maintenance, harbor services, water and sewer. If asked to cut the city budget, less essential services should be focused on first, looking for reasonable reductions. Another cost cutting step would be to eliminate non-profits from the city budget.

4. What is the city of Homer's major strength? What is the city's major weakness? What would you do to build on the strength and fix the weakness?

Beau Burgess: Homer's greatest strength is in being a beautiful and rich place filled with friendly and resourceful people. Our weakness is in being too dependent on only a couple of industries for our economic well-being and long-term resilience.

To build on our strengths, we just need to keep our air, land and water clean, and make sure that the people who already live here can continue to happily do so. We need to make Homer appealing to the kind of people who already live here; we must avoid the temptation to become a community dominated by outside wealth.

We must diversify our economy beyond fisheries and tourism, while still supporting them. We need to vertically integrate and localize our economy, for reasons ranging from food and energy security to our ability to provide useful goods and services to an increasingly unstable and uncertain global economy.

James Dolma: The City of Homer has several strengths. First and foremost is that Homer is a great place to live and raise a family due to the diversity of ideas, talented hard working and creative people, and abundant natural beauty and good basic infrastructure. Homer has a tremendous asset in the spit, harbor and docks which is a great place for marine professions, tourism and service industries. Compared to other cities Homer is in a fairly good financial position despite the economic downturn of the past few years. This does not mean that there is not more to do to build reserves. We must continue to look for savings, and at the same time balance taxation and funding at fiscally responsible levels.

The city's major weakness is that improvements cannot be accomplished all at once. Harbor and dock improvements, water and sewer infrastructure, new source of water and other worthwhile projects take time, money and planning and must be prioritized. The most important thing before the city at this time, is to complete the natural gas build out. This will make Homer more attractive for businesses and affordable for both business and home owners and ultimately for all the citizens living here. The city needs to continue looking at near and long term solutions to address the goals in the long range plan. By providing infrastructure like roads, water and sewer, fire and police, the natural gas build out and other services (like libraries and parks and recreation) the city increases the ability for the city of commerce and other organizations to promote the city as a good place to live and work.

Francie Roberts: The City of Homer is focused on long-term goals. Though the community and the council possess diverse opinions, the city continues to pursue long term issues, such as local planning, development, emergency services, streets, utilities, parks and fiscal planning. A specific example is the effort to provide much needed maintenance for harbor facilities. Though the City of Homer is in sound fiscal condition, budgeting for all the desires of the community is difficult.

5. What, if anything, should the city of Homer do to boost economic development?

Beau Burgess: Like most governments, the City of Homer needs to boost economic development by mostly leaving businesses alone. We should focus instead on fostering an attractive environment for small business by expanding and improving city services, bringing in natural gas, and cultivating large non-corporate groups like the hospital, college, school district, and Federal / Borough Governments.

Rather than reinvent the wheel we should support and empower those groups whose missions already direct them to market and cultivate the local economy – organizations like the Homer Chamber of Commerce, the Homer Farmer's Market, Homer Community Schools and our vibrant local arts community.

Government should only involve itself in areas of the economy related to the common good or to addressing needs to which the private sector is not well suited. The Homer sign code is a good example of what government should avoid.

James Dolma: The city should and does demonstrate its support for and promote business by providing an atmosphere that is conducive to business activity and growth; and creates and promotes policies and infrastructure improvements to enhance diverse economic development projects in business, health, tourism, education, culture, arts, marine trades, port and other areas. Having built a supportive and responsive infrastructure and climate through its policies, the city council instructs the city manager to carry out these policies. By providing policy, infrastructure and favorable climate for business, the chamber of commerce and other agencies support business, and private businesses are able to participate more effectively, freely and profitably.

Francie Roberts: The city should continue to provide the Chamber of Commerce funds to promote the City of Homer. The city should encourage the growth of new jobs. These jobs need to be ones that provide a quality of life and fit with established local businesses. With the advent of the Internet, many more businesses have the capability of locating themselves in a small town. Tax incentives like the one in place giving our local businesses an edge are appropriate.

6. When is it appropriate for the city council to adjourn into executive session? What changes, if any, would you make to ensure city government operates as openly as possible?

Beau Burgess: City council enters executive session mainly to discuss legal issues, the public knowledge of which could potentially cost the city, and by extension the taxpayer, a great deal of money. I have never seen the use of executive session abused in any way.

Homer goes to great lengths to be as open and accessible as possible with regard to records and processes. In fact, the $15,000 worth of tablet computers (which I voted against) were purchased in an effort to address the need for better public records retention. In short, I think the city already spends as much time and money as it needs to, in an effort to be open to the public. That said, some staff could do a better job of interfacing with the public and in maintaining unbiased positions with regard to certain issues. City Hall belongs to everyone; use it to inform yourself and participate.

James Dolma: The city council should follow state law AS 44.62.310 (c) (1)-(3) unless covered under specific city code. Government is another word for management and in managing the affairs of the city effectively some decisions must be made in private to protect the city and its citizens. That being said, it is important to be as transparent and open as possible. Except for the very limited exceptions covered by executive session meetings are open and subject to the open meetings act which details conduct for council members and their interactions with others. I will make every effort to see that state law and the open meetings act are followed and to ensure consistent, accurate and open communication with the public.

Francie Roberts: There are six specific reasons a council can enter into Executive Session according to Alaska statutes. Litigation and personnel matters are two common reasons councils determine to use this privilege. When a council is in Executive Session, only the announced topic can be discussed. To make sure the council is operating as openly as possible, the reason for session needs to be clearly stated to the public..