Council passes budget

If the Homer City Council does nothing else all year, to keep the city of Homer running, it must do at least one thing: pass a budget. On Monday night at its regular meeting, it did just that.

“We shall consider our budget to be approved,” Homer Mayor Beth Wythe announced after the council considered on second reading and passed without objection ordinance 14-51, an ordinance appropriating funds.

The $21.6 million total budget breaks out as follows:

• General fund, $12 million 

• Water fund, $1.9 million

• Sewer fund, $1.5 million

• Port/harbor fund, $4.8 million

• Capital projects, $1 million.

Monday’s meeting was the last of the year and the last with City Manager Walt Wrede attending. Wrede leaves at the end of the year, and the evening included a proclamation honoring his 12 years of services (see story, this page).

The council considered several amendments to the budget that reallocated funds from the professional and special services line item. The most controversial was an amendment made by council member Gus Van Dyke to provide $14,000 for operational expenses to the Homer Hockey Association.

In public testimony, that amendment got strong support from the community. Jan Rumble, secretary of the Homer Hockey Association, noted the heavy public use of the ice arena, with 850 people attending for just open skate sessions. Visitors to hockey tournaments also contributed to the local economy, bringing in $425,000 last year.

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski spoke in support of the appropriation and its help to Mariner athletes.

“We know that students who show participation in extracurricular activities do better,” he said.

Council member Catriona Reynolds made and the council passed an amendment directing that funding be used to help pay off the principal on the hockey association’s loan for the Kevin Bell Ice Arena. The hockey association will soon be starting a capital campaign to pay off its $2.74 million debt on the ice arena. Reynolds said she thought it would be more appropriate for the funds to be used for capital expenses, and could be seen as seed money for the capital campaign.

Council member Beau Burgess said while he would support the appropriation to the hockey association, “generally, I don’t like the precedent of funding nonprofits,” he said.

Burgess said the city should focus on funding core services. Council member Francie Roberts agreed with that point.

“We’re sitting here arguing if we’re giving the hockey association money when we’re not giving COLA (cost of living allowance) to our employees,” she said.

Wythe pointed out that the council in prior years made the decision to support nonprofits through a general grant to the Homer Foundation, with the goal of building up an endowment that could fund nonprofits through grants. 

The city does provide funding to the Pratt Museum, South Peninsula Haven House and the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center for programs the city would not be able to provide itself. For example, Reynolds noted, police investigators use Haven House’s Child Advocacy Center to interview child victims of sexual assault and abuse. 

Council member David Lewis spoke of his years as a hockey parent before the ice arena was built and how he traveled up the road for games and practice.

“It is not the money coming into this town. It’s the money staying here,” he said of the importance of the Kevin Bell Ice Arena.

The council approved the $14,000 appropriation to the hockey association on a 4-2 vote, with Reynolds and Roberts voting no.

Burgess also introduced an amendment to increase council member pay for attending meetings, but he tied that to attendance. They would get $75 for each day of meetings and a lesser amount for attending telephonically. He justified the increase as making it more affordable for low- and middle-income citizens to run for city council and pay for expenses like child care to attend. That amendment passed without objection.

In other budget amendments, the council allocated $4,000 to the Public Arts Fund for an inventory of the city’s art collection and $1,000 to pay for uniform signage for city owned parks and recreational areas.

The new budget takes effect Jan. 1. The 2014 budget of $26 million was about $4 million more than this year, but that included internal service funds, the amount set aside for the city’s health insurance, of $2.2 million. This year’s budget set the internal service fund of $1.7 million outside the total budget.

A plan to provide employee health insurance through premiums rather than self-insuring gave the city a big break, Wrede said. That enabled to city to balance the 2015 budget.

“Otherwise we would have to make really big cuts,” he said.

Other budget related items passed included a resolution amending the city fee schedule, a resolution amending the Port of Homer Terminal tariff, an ordinance amending the 2014 operating budget by spending $255,000 from Port and Harbor reserves to extend potable water to floats K-Q and make electrical and structural upgrades to floats HH and JJ, and an ordinance reauthorizing funds for construction and replacement of HH and JJ floats on System 4 in the harbor.

The next regular meeting of the council is 6 p.m. Jan. 12, 2015, in the Cowles Council Chambers.