Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:40 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2011

City council approves budget, employee insurance premium

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Despite lots of discussion over some proposed controversial amendments, the $21.4-million budget approved by the Homer City Council at its Monday meeting changes very little.

With one notable exception: City employees will begin paying a premium for their health insurance. (See related story.)

Amendments approved by the council include:

• $500,000 to establish a reserve fund required for the issuance of bonds for port and harbor improvement projects, and $20,000 to develop estimates for the projects;

• $100,000 for a maintenance fund for the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon;

• $14,000 to fund through May 2012 utility costs for the Boys & Girls Club located at the Homer Education and Recreation Complex;

• $10,000 for a base radio replacement for the Homer Volunteer Fire Department;

• $4,500 to be used for an event to "gather, thank, learn and appreciate" the 65 volunteers on city commissions and committees;

Amendments withdrawn before consideration or not approved included:

• a $35,000 reduction for the Pratt Museum;

• a $26,375 reduction to the Homer Chamber of Commerce;

• a $9,878 reduction to the Homer Public Library's book-buying budget;

• a $20,000 addition to the Homer Hockey Association.

Before the amendments were addressed, the public had an opportunity to make its wishes known. Mayor James Hornaday also reminded the council that amendments funding specific areas had to indicate where within the budget that same amount would be decreased.

During public testimony, Buck Laukitis, president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association, argued in favor of the cut to chamber funding requested in amendments from council members Kevin Hogan and Barbara Howard, saying the chamber represented only part of the community. He recalled a decision made earlier this year by the chamber to officially comment on a halibut catch sharing plan being considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We feel fairly strongly that the chamber is representing tourism, the bed and breakfast segment which is, without a doubt, an important part of the economic sector of the community, but we feel they had a policy on sensitive issues and basically didn't follow their own policy so we didn't want to be part of that organization anymore and so we're not supporting it," said Laukitis.

He encouraged the funding be given to "a new marine trades group that is basically people, organizations and companies that didn't feel represented by the chamber."

Chris Moss, a chamber member and commercial fisherman, called for a clearer definition of how the city intended the money given the chamber be used.

"The chamber spends all the money for advertising for the visitor industry," said Moss. "I'm not saying don't fund the visitor industry, because it's important, but fund it very carefully."

Monte Davis, executive director of the chamber, also spoke to the amendments.

"I keep hearing this is a funding issue for the chamber, but honest, it's not. ... We don't take a dime for administering this. Every bit gets used to market Homer," said Davis. "If you don't feel like we're the correct entity to do that, we can live with that, but please don't just cut the money. Find someone else to do that and report back to you how they've done."

Hogan's motion failed for lack of a second and Howard removed her amendment before it was considered.

Eileen Faulkner, chair of the library advisory board, urged the council not approve amendments from Hogan and councilmember Bryan Zak to reduce the Homer Public Library's book-buying budget. According to Faulkner, 103,000 items were checked out of the library during 2010, and 2011 is showing a similar amount of activity.

"Books are the purpose of the library," said Faulkner.

Zak and Hogan each removed their amendments.

The reduction of $35,000 funding for the Pratt Museum, an amendment sponsored by Hogan, failed for lack of a second.

Council members David Lewis and Howard sponsored the amendments provide funding for the Homer Hockey Association. Lewis specified the $10,000 he was requesting would help cover the loss of gaming revenues and repairs needed for compressors at the Kevin Bell Ice Arena.

"We are not a community of the size that supports these types of social activities," said Wythe, opposing the budget amendment.

Lewis argued that the ice rink "provides a definite economic engine at a time when we're pretty dead around here."

The amendment failed, with Lewis and Hogan the only council members voting yes; council members Roberts, Zak, Howard and Wythe voting no. Howard removed her amendment of $10,000 for the Homer Hockey Association before it was considered.

Once the lengthy process of addressing amendments to the budget was completed, with very little changed, Ordinance 11-41 received unanimous approval by the council. No sooner had it passed than Wythe requested immediate reconsideration of the ordinance as presented, a Parliamentary procedure that can be requested only once. Wythe said she wanted "merely to lock this in."

"We can't go away and have buyer's remorse and start all over," she said.

The Homer City Council began its round of meetings Monday with an executive session to discuss three topics noted as "legal issues regarding seawall," "Kazan property" and "enforcement and overdue fee collection for derelict vessels in the harbor." Reasoning for each was that "immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the government unit and attorney/client privilege."

A special meeting of the Homer City Council to address the seawall will be held at Homer Education and Recreation Center at 5 p.m. on Dec. 19. The next regular meeting of the Homer City Council is Jan. 9, 2012.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.