Homer could learn a thing or two from its neighbors

A story in this week’s Real Estate and Business section (page 5) gives more fodder as citizens chew on the question: What is the proper role of government?
The issue comes up virtually every time a government at any level takes on something new. For example, in Homer, the question was asked during endless discussions on changes to the city’s sign code and the plastic-bag ban debate. It’s been asked in discussions about bringing natural gas to Homer and the roles the state, city and borough government have played and are playing in that effort. It’s asked about the city’s grant program to nonprofit organizations.
Up the road from Homer, the city of Soldotna is providing reimbursable grants of up to $5,000 to businesses to encourage them to improve their storefronts. The projects must be approved and must cost at least double the amount of the grant. The program is only for exterior improvements — things like
signage, masonry work and accessibility upgrades.
Even some business owners who have participated wondered at first if it was the good use of city money, but, after some thought and research, decided it was. The program has encouraged some businesses put improvement projects higher on their priority list.
The project grew out of Envision Soldotna 2030, the city’s long-range plan. The plan’s goals include improving the city’s downtown area and beautifying its highway corridors.
This year there’s $15,000 available for the program — not an amount that is likely to break the city’s bank, but enough to help encourage small businesses to freshen up their storefronts.
While it could be endlessly debated on whether the spruce-up project is a good use of city’s money, there are lessons in the city’s approach to accomplishing its goals. Instead of telling business owners what they can and can’t do, the city is partnering with them and providing an economic incentive for them to get on board with its beautification program.
Kachemak City has employed a similar tactic as it works to get natural gas to its residents. It’s providing a $500 rebate for residents who sign up with Enstar to get a service line to their home. That’s about 40 percent of the $1,290 cost of the line. It’s a practical way to encourage people to sign up.
Of course, no matter what government does, it will be criticized, but the idea of partnering — really partnering — to accomplish goals seems a lot more civilized than creating ordinances that are difficult to enforce and end up alienating residents and businesses even more from the government that’s designed to serve them.
While every community on the Kenai Peninsula might think it knows better than neighboring communities how best to do things, we hope Homer will take a page from the playbooks of Soldotna and Kachemak City. Instead of telling people and businesses what they will do, why not look at the bigger picture and the long-range goals to be accomplished and find ways to work together to accomplish those goals?
Most people like being part of the solution; they just don’t want their participation mandated.