Council amends budget

Mid-biennium budget change would increase cost-of-living adjustment for city workers.

This week’s Homer City Council meeting returned to the basics of municipal government: capital improvements, water and sewer, and budgets. In a meeting clocking in at about 90 minutes, and without any objection, the council passed these ordinances up for public hearings:

• Ordinance 22-16, an ordinance amending the fiscal year 2022 capital budget by appropriating $30,000 from the Capital Asset Repair and Maintenance Allowance, or CARMA, fund for funding the development of an engineered concept and cost estimate for an accessible fishing platform at the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon;

• Ordinance 22-18(S), an ordinance amending the FY 2022 capital budget by appropriating $461,446 for the Homer Accelerated Water and Sewer Program (HAWSP) to fund the city’s portion of costs for the Bunnell Avenue-Charles Way water and sewer special assessment districts;

• Ordinance 22-19(S), an ordinance amending the FY 2022 capital budget by appropriating $56,450 from the Port Reserves Fund for engaging R&M Consultants’ grand assistance and engineering support teams to develop and submit a port infrastructure development grant program for the Homer Harbor float replacement project, and

• Ordinance 22-20, an ordinance amending the FY 2022-2023 operating budget to provide for mid-biennium budget amendments.

In a memorandum to the council, City Manager Rob Dumouchel listed the changes to the operating budget. The city works on a two-year budget cycle, and with increased sales tax revenues more than originally anticipated, Dumouchel came back to the council to make these adjustments:

1) Implement a 7% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for FY 2023, a $665,000 increase

2) Add three new staff positions (IT network administrator, two special projects coordinators)

3) Make adjustments to specific line items for the departments

4) Provide administration fee relief to the Enterprise and Utility funds

5) Allocate the remaining surplus to the unassigned General Fund Fund Balance.

Dumouchel wrote that “the proposed adjustments are aggressive but realistic. They are also necessary to retain skilled employees to carry out the Council’s goals and directions.”

In public testimony, Deputy Harbormaster Matt Clarke spoke on why he thought the city needs a 7% COLA increase. Clarke said he’s in charge of hiring full-time seasonal employees at the harbor for tasks like groundskeeping and parking lot management. Those jobs are listed from $15.97/hour for a seasonal harbor worker to $19/hour for parking enforcement. Clarke said he’s found it hard to recruit employees.

“What we’re finding is that with these inflationary pressures, the private sector wages are outpacing our wages,” he said. “…It (the COLA increase) will help us go a long way to attract employees to the positions we’re advertising for.”

A tightening of affordable housing also makes it hard to find workers at lower wages, Clarke added.

Council member Shelly Erickson, co-owner of HomeRun Oil, the Short Stop gas station, and the KOA campground, said she’s also having trouble finding workers.

“I understand what you’re going through in the hiring process, because it’s not just the city; it’s every business,” she said. “… It’s so much bigger than we actually understand. … So, anyway, I am in support of that (the budget adjustment) because I know where you guys are sitting.”

On the matter of affordable housing, the council took a written report from the Homer Planning Commission noting it is looking into the issue of how to allow so-called Tiny Houses, small homes often built on trailers. The commission also is considering amending the lower West Hill area zoning from the rural residential district to urban residential, a zoning classification that allows smaller lots and duplexes or multi-family housing. A public hearing on that change is 6:30 p.m. April 20 in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall.

In other action, the council also passed a resolution authorizing the city manager to execute a loan agreement with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for an Alaska Drinking Water Fund loan in the amount of $277,090 for the Tasmania Court Water Improvement Project.

The council also passed on introduction an ordinance not to exceed $800,000 for the purchase of a new 2,500-gallon Enforcer tender fire truck. That ordinance goes up for a public hearing and second reading at the April 25 council meeting.

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