Q & A with Candidates for Homer City Council
6 Candidates for 2 Seats•Election is Oct. 6
What do you see as the top-3 core services provided by the city of Homer?
Donna Aderhold: Public safety (police, fire, and EMS), public works (road and public facilities maintenance, sewer and water systems operation and maintenance), and port and harbor. I chose these as my top 3 because we need to keep our residents and visitors safe, we need to maintain our roads and sewer and water systems for public health and safety, and the Homer Harbor is at the heart of our City’s commerce. However, I believe that all the services the City currently provides are important and fill clear needs that are logical for local government to provide.
Incumbent Beauregard Burgess: I believe the top three core services provided by the City of Homer are first, road and trail maintenance (including winter services); second, fire, EMS and police services; and third, water and sewer services. These services comprise the core framework which supports a safe and economically viable city. The Port and Harbor are also of paramount importance. Port services are not what I would consider “core” services per se, but the Port is certainly the City’s most vital enterprise activity. Much of Homer’s economy is rooted in harbor activities. The Port and Harbor Fund must remain solvent and continue to expand our marine services and facilities over time.
Robert ‘Bob’ Howard: Public safety — that is police and fire that meet or exceeds standard response times;
Clean water and high standard sewage systems; and
Roads in safe driving conditions, including snow removal.
Heath Smith: The three top core services provided by the city are fire, police and public works (which includes our water and sewer service).
Thomas P. ‘Tom’ Stroozas:
• Public Safety — police, fire and emergency services;
• Road maintenance; and
Joni Wise: I think the top 3 core services in Homer are Police, Fire & EMS, and Economic Development, in that order.
How would you balance the city’s budget?
Aderhold: A mix of cutting city spending, increased revenue through taxes, and evaluating capital improvement projects. City departments have slashed budgets in recent years. Positions have been cut or left unfilled, employees do more with less and take on greater responsibilities, and wages have stagnated while employees pay a higher share of health care costs. At this point we citizens may need to evaluate what programs or services we can live without. Taxes to evaluate include increasing the sales tax cap, the sales tax, and property taxes, and adding a bed tax (Borough-wide). No one likes to hear this, but with lost state shared revenues we need to pay more ourselves to maintain the city services we all rely on. Finally, we need to evaluate the rationale of projects on the CIP for long term need and affordability, particularly those that require long term city operation and maintenance budget.
Burgess: I would balance the City’s budget by asking voters to choose the more popular of the following two options: One, raise the City’s seasonal (summer) sales tax rate by 2 percent. Two, raise the overall sales tax rate by 1 percent year round. A significant bed tax or a property tax increase are the only other realistic revenue-based options I can see for balancing the budget in the next 12 months, and I do not favor doing either of these. Certain fees for non-City residents should also be increased, and other long-term revenue sources, such as taxing online transactions, should be considered. But, realistically none of these is a near-term solution or likely to make a large difference relative to the overall budget. If the voters did not favor any revenue increases I would eliminate or dramatically reduce funding for the City Planning Department, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Library. Cuts in staffing in City Administration and at the Police Department would also need to be considered. Anyone who claims that the City’s budget can be balanced via a cuts-only approach without seriously reducing some City services is being disingenuous, or has not actually looked at the budget.
Howard: Past budgets have been “status quo” for hiring, reserve account and equipment replacement in lieu of raising taxes, or eliminating certain services, we find ourselves out of “low hanging fruit” options. This year, is tough decision time. We are at least one to two years from any new tax revenue streams. Now we have to look at the several pots of option monies. For example, continue to draw down on the Valdez oil spill fund; to eliminate the city’s property tax exemption; how much can we use of HART (trails and roads) funds, if any? Every account needs to be reviewed for possibility of using available money. I don’t like having to identify these accounts for possible use, but it is better than the alternative of reducing the essential services. This being said, in conjunction with these severe moves, the mechanism must be in place with the borough for our ability to generate new revenues that our residents are willing to support.
Smith: Successfully balancing the City budget will take a collaborative effort of the council, lead administrators and department heads. We need to take a hard look at where growth has occurred and where the budget has expanded in recent years. I think as we explore this we may find ways to economize and make our cost centers more efficient and cost effective. One of the keys to this is determining Cost to Benefit ratios--assuring our residents that the cost centers are producing adequate benefit in relationship to the dollars spent. This cannot be determined by the end product only. It has to be looked at on every level within each department. I’m confident as we do this we can balance our budget.
Stroozas: Eliminate non-essential spending. Look at areas of waste, employee attrition and scrutinize redundancy. Only spend tax dollars on essential items that affect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Homer. Look to the borough to absorb more of the costs associated with local parks and recreation that are used by more people than just Homer residents. Increase revenue without raising taxes.
Wise: I believe the best way to balance the city’s budget is to cut spending and increase our City’s economy. If our City’s government will relinquish its grip on the City’s economy and cut back on high taxation, our City will flourish. We have to allow our City to grow by putting the people of this town ahead of the interests of politicians and a privileged few.
What would your approach be to beach policy in Homer?
Aderhold: Move forward with implementing recommendations of the Beach Task Force. The City Council tasked the Parks and Recreation Commission with a complicated problem and they took their work seriously. Now City Council must act on those recommendations to maintain access to and enjoyment of our beaches by City residents and visitors into the future. Compelling aspects of the beach issue to me are safe enjoyment of our beaches, being a good neighbor to property owners adjacent to City property, respecting the critical habitat area, and maintaining access to those who heat with coal and own properties only accessible by beach. One good idea I’ve heard recently is implementing a permit system that would allow driving on the beach with a permit after acknowledging beach policies, private lands, and speed limits. This would educate people and provide for easier enforcement.
Burgess: I would ask the Federal and State Governments to erect physical barriers to prevent motor vehicle access to those beach properties they do not want the general public to drive on (specifically the protected habitat area immediately to the East of the Bishop’s Beach public vehicle access). I would encourage private property owners to do the same if they do not like vehicles driving on their beach properties. Assuming funding was a public priority, I would have a seasonal safety officer patrol the beaches to enforce existing litter, traffic and safety laws. I would NOT close public access to Bishop’s Beach in any way. Denying the public access to beaches is not the solution to our collective failure to adequately enforce existing laws.
Howard: The goal is developing a policy that achieves the “good of the whole” while protecting the environmental value of this sensitive eco zone. This can be achieved with the help of the scientific community and the user groups. I am confident every citizen of Homer is very concerned about the well being of the condition of our coastal areas and would set aside their personal preference uses in order to sustain the well being of the beaches and our ocean. Lets work together with the goal of a “sustainable ocean front beach” as our purpose.
Smith: Bishop’s Beach is a highly popular and central public interface in our community. As a long time resident that has enjoyed this beach as a grade schooler to now a middle aged Homerite, I have seen it from all perspectives. I would love for everybody to just exercise common sense and coexist on that beautiful beach. But it has become apparent that a compromise will prevail, and that we should clearly create a delineation that would effectively ban vehicle use to the east of the beach access point.
Stroozas: Increase the enforcement of current laws. Then ramp up police activity and levy heavy fines to those who violate the sanctity of our beaches.
Wise: My approach to the beach policy in Homer would be to not have a beach policy in Homer.
4. Should the city move forward on a new Public Safety Building? Explain.
Aderhold: Yes, with caveats. I believe aspects of the building are too extravagant, we need to consider a phased approach to constructing the building, and I’d like to see more open dialog between the City and residents about the building. The police station is overdue for replacement and renovation of the existing building is not cost effective. Our police deserve a safe and comfortable working environment. The fire department is in lesser need of a new facility so we could phase in fire and EMS-related portions of the building over time. I am frustrated that the public process for the Public Safety Building has not appeared to seriously consider public concerns and input; rather it’s focused on building informed consent. Also, because, as now planned, the fully built building would remove the HERC, we need to evaluate how to replace the valuable community services the HERC currently provides.
Burgess: The City should begin the process of asking the public how they would like to proceed with a new public safety building, and should wait to take any further action or incur further expense until a source of State or Federal funding is secured to cover the cost of a new facility. Or, if the general public feels the need for a new building is great enough, the City can issue revenue bonds. Until there is clear public understanding of the need for a new building and there is a will to pay for it, no more money should be spent except to educate and involve the public in the decision making process.
Howard: Better facilities and general resources for our police and fire departments is a proven. Long overdue and we must move ahead on. The question I am researching is: Is the need so urgent that any improvements is a better road than waiting, most likely for several years, to gather up the funding sources needed. The current properties really, don’t lend themselves to many options for enlargement but perhaps some addition to the current police department would have an immediate effect on the safety of our employees and prisoners. In the meantime, we continue to refine the facilities needs and engage the community asking for their support and willingness to tax themselves for the public safety services we have and want. The recent “fill the gap” survey indicates we want and are willing to pay for good public safety. We identify this as our number one priority.
Smith: The Public Safety Building conceptually grabs your attention. On one hand, there is no argument that these services are absolutely essential, and I would love for us to have the needed facilities and equipment to ensure our safety. I am in full support of doing this IF we can afford it AND the public at large is in support of it. I personally think we can take this on in phases and at a much smaller cost. The States current economic climate and the unknown repercussions of how that massive budget deficit gets resolved begs us to commit our money wisely. I think we need to really figure out what we can afford.
Stroozas: It is best to first gain community support before funding can be committed. We are a small community and do not demand the expanded amenity structures of large metropolitan area.We need to look into updating our current facilities to increase their useful life cycle until such time we can afford building new facilities.
Joni Wise: I do not think the city should move forward on a new Public Safety building. Our city does not have the resources to pay for such a large facility. We have a budget shortfall. Our City has chosen to cut our Police Force by one officer to cover that shortfall. We obviously cannot afford a new building when we can’t even maintain a sufficient workforce to keep Homer safe.
Do you think the city of Homer should explore with the Kenai Peninsula Borough the idea of creating a Lower Kenai Peninsula Emergency Services Area that would combine the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, Kachemak City Emergency Services, Kachemak Emergency Services, Anchor Point Emergency Services and Ninilchik Emergency Services? Why?
Aderhold: Yes, we need to explore this concept to determine whether it is cost effective and in the City’s best interest. We may be able to gain efficiencies by combining forces and sharing equipment and staff; conversely we could lose control of our emergency services to a larger emergency service area and wind up with reduced services to the City of Homer.
Burgess: Any idea is worth exploring to a point. I would be concerned, however, that a Lower Peninsula Emergency Service Area would take money and jobs out of the City of Homer with no improvement in response times or outcomes for Homer residents. The devil would be in the details and funding mechanisms of such an arrangement. I can see how it might be done to the benefit of Homer residents, and I can also see how it might be yet another way that Homer pays for infrastructure and services that support a much larger area at the expense of Homer citizens only.
Howard: When the city is approached to form an exploratory group I would support participation, but I do not support the city initiating the talks. My experience generally has been the agency with the most resources carries the largest burden, and that is the city of Homer.
Smith: Creating a Lower Kenai Peninsula Emergency Service Area will face one major hurdle...Showing the surrounding communities how they stand to benefit from its formation. I believe it would be a hard sell to pull off. Unless sentiment has changed KESA was formed specifically to tell the city “hands off!”
Stroozas: A topic that is worthy of consideration and investigation. Spreading the cost of operating and maintaining the facilities, services and dispatchment throughout the region could lead to greater efficiency.
Wise: I do not think we should explore the idea of creating a Lower Kenai Peninsula Emergency Area for a couple of reasons. First, each city/town needs to be in charge of what they would like to do for their own town. We should not make them participate in something they might not want. It is for their town and for their citizens to decide. Second, our Emergency Services here in Homer are already maxed out. To increase the area will increase our burden to those who provide these services. The state of Alaska is too vast to consider combining.
6. Do you think there should be one hospital service area for the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough? Explain.
Aderhold: It’s a little early to answer this question since the Borough Mayor’s Health Care Task Force just formed and a consolidated hospital service area is one aspect they will evaluate. The City Council should monitor task force activities and advocate for the importance of SPH and the services it provides to Homer residents and visitors. The benefits of having one hospital service area are that all peninsula residents would pay into the service area and it may increase the funds available to each of the hospitals which could improve services at SPH and make them more affordable. However, centralized control in Soldotna could mean less local control of SPH, and services currently provided at SPH could be consolidated at CPH.
Burgess: The number of hospital service areas is less important than how funding is allocated within a given service area. There are certainly areas around Homer that rely primarily on the South Peninsula Hospital for EMS and other services, yet are not part of the SPH service area and do not pay their fair share. This includes many areas across Kachemak Bay. But simply making one big KPB Hospital Service Area may not solve this problem. This may just end up being another vehicle for Kenai and Soldotna to keep revenues flowing from South to North, with most benefits going to Central Peninsula Hospital. However, I’m sure there is a way for a single KPB hospital service area to benefit SPH. Yet again, the devil will be in the details.
Howard: The borough has a Health Care Task Force in place and they have started meeting. Kelly Cooper is our representative and is a member of this task force. Lets give this group the opportunity to tackle the issues to determine the benefits or not. A little premature to take a position at this time. It is important, however, that we keep this task forces work on our radar. Their meetings are open to the public and we should attend as often as possible. Health care issues are complicated and complex.
Smith: Central Pen. Hospital is a model of what South Pen. Hospital aspires to be. Unfortunately, our population base hinders this. Our mill rate is basically 4 times theirs and our health care costs are higher. We have a beautiful, state-of- the-art facility with wonderful staff, but in the end that doesn’t balance the books. Overall, I think it would be advantageous to our community to have one service area. The rub...getting everyone else on board (see concern in question 5).
Thomas P. ‘Tom’ Stroozas: Probably not. Our local hospital should have its own service area with local control. Giving up local control has the potential to reduce the amount of specialty clinics and force residents to drive to Soldotna for those services. Homer cannot become a stepchild to healthcare.
Wise: No, and for the same reasons given in my answer to question 5.
Also appearing on the ballot is Michael Neece. However, earlier this month Neece announced that he had withdrawn from the race and is not campaigning for election. Because he withdrew after the deadline to drop out from the election, his name will appear on the ballot.
Occupation: Wildlife ecologist, HDR Inc.
Spouse, children: Wayne Aderhold; two stepchildren
Alaska resident: since 1990
Education: Bachelor of science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh; Master of science, Texas A & M University, College Station
Political and governmental experience: member, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve Community Council; Far North Bicentennial Park User Group Committee, Anchorage
Service organization memberships: Vice president, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust; Coastal Observation and Seabird Study Team volunteer; member, The Wildlife Society
Contact: 907-244-4388, email@example.com, Facebook
Occupation: Small business owner
Spouse, children: None
Alaska resident: 10 years
Education: Two years college and vocational
Political and governmental experience: Appointed Homer City Council, April 2012; elected October 2012; member, Cannabis Advisory Commission,; Water and Sewer Rate Task Force
Business positions: Owner/manager, Southern Exposure, Homer Bookkeepers; secretary, SPITwSPOTS; member/owner Blood Sweat and Food Farms
Service Organization Memberships: Member, KBBI, Homer Chamber of Commerce; volunteer, Homer Playground Project
Robert ‘Bob’ Howard
Occupation: Retired civil engineer
Spouse: Barbara; six children, oldest 57, youngest 41
Alaska resident: 11 years in Homer
Education: Bachelor of science, civil engineering, San Jose State University, California.
Political and governmental experience: Economic Development Commission, 2006-2007, Port and Harbor Commission, 2010-present; Sewer and Water Rate Task Force, 2012-2013
Service organization memberships: None
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 299-3727, Facebook
Occupation: Driver and service provider, United Parcel Service
Spouse: wife Tara; children, Myra, Lilly, Caitlin, Elsie, Kian, Byron
Alaska resident: 50 years, born in Anchorage
Education: Bachelor of arts, international relations, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Political and governmental experience: None.
Service organization memberships: Assistant Boy Scout leader, Amateur Softball Association umpire
Contact: 299-8226, email@example.com
Occupation: Publisher, America’s Cuisine
Spouse: Debbie; son, Thomas IV
Alaska resident: Homer resident, nine years
Education: two years college, Pensacola Junior College, now University of West Florida
Political and governmental experience: Homer Advisory Planning Commission, 2013-present; president, Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center board
Service organization memberships: Homer Elks Lodge, Kenai Masonic Lodge No. 11; Homer Voice for Business; Kachemak Bay Masonic Club.
Contact: email at firstname.lastname@example.org, 235-3677
Occupation: Homemaker; bookkeeper, Marty Wise Electrical
Spouse: Marty Wise; five children, ages 4 to 13
Alaska resident: 21 years
Education: Homer High School; Liberty University, working on a criminal justice degree
Political and governmental experience: None
Service organization memberships: member, budget and pastoral search committees, Glacierview Baptist Church; Parent-Teacher Association; volunteer, Homer Senior Center
Contact: 399-8010, email@example.com; #wiseup2016