After several questions concerning the upcoming fiscal year capital budget were raised by Homer City Council members during the June 28 meeting, the adoption of the 2022-23 capital budget was postponed until further conversations and amendments can be had. Members of the city council will offer suggestions and amendments to the city manager to clarify any concerns before the July 26 meeting, and the council will then vote on the capital budget. The council did approve other parts of the budget, however.
During the Committee of the Whole and regular meeting, several council members asked questions about individual budget line items, including maintenance funding and building funds, which would require additional funding sources not originally allocated in the presented capital budget. After agreeing that amendments needed to be made to the capital budget before it could be passed, the council voted to postpone the adoption.
While the capital budget will not be approved until after the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, the city will continue to operate as is until a decision in support of the final capital budget can be made. Because the council approved all parts of the budget except the capital budget, there will be no disruption to city services. To view the budget ordinance, visit www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/ordinance/73305/ord_21-36_capital_budget.pdf.
Also concerning the fiscal year 2022-23 budget, Ordinance 21-32 was substituted with Ordinance 21-32 (S) and adopted to appropriate funds for the upcoming fiscal year for the general fund, water fund, sewer fund, port/harbor fund and the internal services fund. While the ordinance was passed with optimism, the council did voice concerns with its current lack of allocating funds for the reserve fund.
“There has been a lot of work done by the council and administration to get us to this point, and so it is a budget I can support. My biggest caveat and concern about it is the lack of transfers to reserves, and those dovetail into concerns about the capital budget and reserve policy in general,” council member Rachel Lord said. “I trust I know, and I will make sure that it happens to the best of my ability, that we pursue and we do in good faith follow through with what we need to to responsibly run the capital assets of the city in terms of repair maintenance and long term reserve structure for those funds.”
Council member Heath Smith addressed his concern of the lack of community input, but said he trusted the budget plan.
“I think that long term, this is going to be the best thing for the city,” Smith said. “If I hadn’t been convinced of that, I wouldn’t have been willing to support it or bring it forward to spend the money in relationship to what it costs us to do.”
After the adoption of Ordinance 21-32 (S), Smith called for a reconsideration of Ordinance 21-32. The reconsideration was voted against in order to keep the budget from being frozen until the upcoming July 26 meeting.
Another ordinance introduced to the council Monday by council member Joey Evensen and Mayor Ken Castner is up for further discussion at the next meeting that would submit a question on the Oct. 5 municipal election ballot concerning city council and mayoral term limits.
The legislation would ask voters if the mayor and city council members should be limited to term limits of two years and three years respectively. Currently, city council members and the mayor can serve for an indefinite number of terms pending reelection. By placing the question on the ballot, voters would have the opportunity to voice their opinion about term limits. To take effect, the term limits proposal would have to receive an affirmative vote from the majority of voters.
“The last four elections, three of the four we had more candidates run than we had seats, and that tells me there is a community desire to be on council,” Evensen said. “We are a growing community, we are a rapidly growing community right now as the entire state chooses to vacation here during summertime. I think limiting terms is just a thoughtful thing to do in a very democratic sense for our future.”
Evensen also stated the lack of diversity on the council was not reflective of the population the council represents.
“We should happily step aside at some point and let others serve. We are not the only ones that can do this. I think that making way for people to serve in this capacity increases the ability for this community to come together and have more people involved,” Smith said in support of putting the vote before the community.
The council passed the introduction of Ordinance 21-43; however, not all of the council is in favor of term limits.
“There are quite a lot of people that will serve two terms or three terms. Not many times do I see that we have council members who serve more than three terms in a small town,” Lord said. “There have been a lot of people running, but in a small town, I feel this way about nonprofit boards, I feel this way about about the borough, I feel this way about the council: there is not money fueling this, there is no prestige fueling this. So term limits, I’m just not a supporter of term limits. I think that the ballot box where we go to vote for one another is where we make those term limits happen by being able to vote people out.”
Council member Donna Aderhold said while she supported the introduction, she wants to hear public comment on if this is a pressing issue or not. Council member Caroline Venuti also shared this concern, saying the people should have brought this issue to the council, not the council “policing themselves.”
“I think the public of Homer know exactly who they want to represent on city council. I think they say it with their vote, and this will cloudy the whole process to me,” Venuti said. “… I think it will cloudy up an election when we should be elected on the issues. … I hope the public understands, I’m not saying you can’t put this on the ballot yourselves, but I’m saying we shouldn’t be putting it on the ballot.”
A public hearing for Ordinance 21-43 will be held July 26.
In addition to the budget and election term limit discussions, the city council discussed new legislation to amend the city codes concerning marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing and retail facilities, including allowing on-site cannabis consumption at retail shops. Sent to the planning commission originally, the motion to recommend the ordinance to city council did not pass. In order to give the commission more time to evaluate state regulations, the ordinance was postponed until the next meeting. The planning commission will meet again July 21.
While the introduction of the ordinance was postponed, the council still heard numerous comments of support from community members during the meeting.
Chris Logan, a co-owner of Cosmic Cannabis Company, called in to address the benefits of Ordinance 21-41.
“I would like to speak in support of allowing an on-site consumption endorsement to the current marijuana zoning code. Currently, there is no legal place in Homer for tourists to smoke, and I want you to be aware that state regulations require very strict rules, which address odor, visibility of on-site consumption, secondhand smoke and many other regulations.”
Mark Turner also called in to the meeting to discuss his opinions concerning the ordinance, stating the lack of a designated area to smoke legally is a safety hazard.
“I consider the approval of this ordinance to be a safety issue. Again, there is nowhere in Homer where tourists are able to smoke marijuana legally. … Some of the instances and concerns about the proximity to Bishop’s Beach are no different to me than the proximity to bars and restaurants where people are allowed to drink alcohol, for example, in those areas. So again, I encourage, particularly for safety issues if not for some economic boom in the tourism industry, to approve this ordinance.”
Conversations concerning the ordinance will continue next meeting with the planning commission for more information.
The renovations to the City Hall Cowles Council Chambers are expected to be completed by the July 26 meeting, so pending completion, the next city council meeting will be held in person at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
For more information about the city council meeting, visit www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-regular-meeting-252.
Reach Sarah Knapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.