Coucil OKs grader purchase after debate

The city’s 1994 Champion Grader’s transmission recently broke down

The Homer City Council on Monday voted unanimously to appropriate $460,000 to purchase new equipment for the Public Works Department, including a city grader and F-550 truck for sanding the airport tarmac.

In ordinances 22-04 (S) and 22-05, the funding was originally allocated from the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails, or HART, Fund; however, after extensive discussions during both the committee of the whole and regular meetings on Monday, the council determined it would be more appropriate for the equipment to be purchased using the General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance rather than the HART Fund.

The city’s 1994 Champion Grader’s transmission recently broke down, leaving Public Works with only two graders to plow snow in the city. The council appropriated $400,000 for the new grader, but it is expected to cost roughly $365,000. The grader can be ordered now, but because of industry delays it could take up to a year for the city to receive the grader, according to Ordinance 22-04 (S).

The F-550, 2-ton 4×4 sanding truck will also be purchased to replace the F-350 sanding truck, on which the frame is irreparably broken, for $60,000. Public Works is responsible for sanding the airport tarmac and parking lot and is currently using an older and “well-worn” F-550 2-ton 4×4 truck.

According to the HART Fund policy manual, the HART Fund was created to “pay for reconstructing substandard city roads, upgrading existing roads, and constructing new streets and non-motorized trails. The intent of the program is to reduce maintenance costs, improve access, increase property values and improve the quality of life.”

In 2017, Homer voters passed a change to city code, allowing the HART Fund to also be used for roads and trails maintenance, such as snowplowing, street cleaning, pothole repairs, dust control, gravel purchase, pavement striping, signage, purchase of road and trail equipment and tools, trail clearing and sweeping, and trail head maintenance.

However, during the committee of the whole, Homer Mayor Ken Castner criticized the move to use the HART Fund for purchasing new maintenance equipment based on voters’ understanding of what the fund can be used for.

“That’s my biggest problem with this is now we’re redefining what HART can pay for, and I don’t believe that was ever the voter’s intent,” Castner said.

Council member Rachel Lord disagreed with Castner, stating the policy does include purchasing road maintenance equipment.

“I would disagree that the voters did actually change HART and very explicitly allows for maintenance to be included,” Lord said.

Both council members Shelly Erickson and Jason Davis said that when they voted on the change to HART in 2017, they understood it to be used for maintaining roads and trails, not necessarily purchasing new equipment to do so. Davis posed the question of if the funding should not come from the HART Fund, where else could it be allocated from?

“To me, it makes sense to use HART to maintain the roads, maintain the trails, maintaining the fleet and fixing things when they break. But brand new, big purchases, if they could come from somewhere else, it would leave us more to do in terms of expanding trails,” Davis said. “… So where could we get that money if it wasn’t coming from HART? Are there other options?”

Homer City Manager Rob Dumouchel and Castner suggested using the General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance to purchase both pieces of machinery, which was ultimately supported by the council and members of the audience, including former council member Heath Smith.

After amending the ordinances to allocate the funds from the unassigned balance, the council voted in favor of purchasing the equipment.

“I think that as a rule, this isn’t a great idea. The General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance isn’t a slush fund. … As a council member, I don’t want to be using the unassigned fund balance, no matter how big it is, to be covering expenses on a play-by-play basis,” Lord said after the ordinance was amended.

“But given where we are with our fleet needs and the questions we have regarding HART, both from a policy and from an accounting standpoint, I think this is a clean move. I think it is a justifiable move,” she continued. “There are funds there and I think this is a way to move us forward and continue having the HART conversation without worrying about the timing of needing to order a grader.”

The council also asked city staff for a record of HART Fund purchases since the vote in 2017 to help better define what its purpose is in order to direct future uses of the money. More conversations concerning the HART Fund will be held in the future.

For more information about the Jan. 25 city council meeting, visit

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