Let’s take sales tax on food off the table

While changes weren’t made this week, it appears that some Homer City Council members are unwilling to let go of their desire to fund a portion of city government with a year-round tax on food.

If public testimony is any indication, however, citizens don’t want the council eliminating that seasonal exemption.

Council member James Dolma has given notice he wants to reconsider the issue when the council meets again in January, but he wants more options on the table. That’s not a bad idea. Homer officials and citizens do need to consider a bigger picture. But they don’t need to have this conversation in January.

A status quo budget has been passed. The sales tax exemption remains in place. Let’s leave well enough alone — for now.

In January, the council should devote its energy to the details of getting a natural gas distribution system in place, so Homer residents can lower their energy costs. 

While the council is focusing on that important project, it should appoint a task force to look at some of the other tools the city has at its disposal for running the business of government. The sales tax exemption on nonprepared food items should not be among the tools on the table.

The city also should consider a simple survey to get some feedback from a cross section of residents about taxes and city government. What services do citizens think are essential? What areas does the city spend too much on? Where does the city not spend enough? And, of course, the city needs to ask what citizens are willing to pay for those services and how they are willing to pay for them.

Yes, there will be wide differences of opinion, but some innovative ideas might come of the process. 

It would be helpful if citizens who have urged the council not to reinstate the sales tax on food year-round made other suggestions on where the city should look to pay for the services it provides. It also would be helpful if the city considered that it may be providing services that at least some citizens don’t want.

The whole community needs to examine its vision for the future of Homer. By choosing to live within the city limits, most residents recognize they will be taxed for the services they receive. They know — or should know — those services aren’t free. But how much is enough when it comes to both services and taxes?

Citizens should appreciate that council members want to be wise stewards and not just postpone tough decisions. Not funding depreciation expenses, for example, is, as council member Beau Burgess noted Monday night, just kicking the can down the road. It’s wise to have money set aside for repairs of essential items, which, eventually break down and usually break down at an inopportune time.

Homer is known for its creativity and innovation. There’s no reason to see a sales tax on food as the only or best answer to funding some of Homer’s wants and needs.

In fact, Homer council members and citizens should take great pride that the exemption is in place. It’s an acknowledgement that lots of people in the community could use a little help. 

There’s a better answer out there to funding city government than reinstating the food tax year round.