Things outside Homer don’t look great, but the city will continue to weather the storm well. That’s according to Mayor Ken Castner and City Manager Katie Koester, who gave a “State of the City” address Tuesday at a Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center meeting at the Best Western Bidarka Inn.
The two took turns updating the public on the economic, physical and emotional health of the city.
Castner said that he had several goals when taking office, many of which had to do with the city’s finances and thinking of ways to better manage the city’s money.
“My real aspirations were to come in and see if we could do something that gave us better projections of cash flow, better projections on what we have to spend day to day, and what we didn’t have to spend,” the mayor said.
He said he was initially worried the city was paying too much for labor. In reality, Castner said, the city’s labor costs now make up a smaller portion of the overall budget, even though the city government has grown over the years.
Castner said the city has also been looking into its various reserve funds. Those are the savings funds not included in the annual operating budget, where money is placed for future needs.
“These funds accumulate money, and then we replace a police car, or we replace occasionally a fire truck or we replace computers or something like that,” Castner said. “… My concern is, what’s the right size for those (reserve accounts)?”
Castner said that by going over each account and looking back over several years, the city found about four years of funding seems to be the right amount of money to have in them for expenses that aren’t able to be budgeted annually. Castner said the city is looking at creating a policy regarding reserve accounts and their balances.
Castner and Koester said the city is also investigating the possibility of going from an annual budget model to a two-year budget cycle.
“I think that if we budget for two years, and we’re always looking back 11 months and ahead 11 months, on a quarterly basis, we can always see how the cash moves in and out of the city’s coffers,” Castner said. “And we can get a really great idea as to … where our budget will be in two or three years.”
Koester said the two-year budget cycle would bring an element of predictability to the process along with the ability to better adapt to changing circumstances.
“I think that a two-year budget cycle has the potential to bring more accountability to the city, because we’re going to be able to actually reflect in those off years on what we are spending money on verses just constantly gearing up for another cycle of budgets,” she said.
Some other city updates given at the chamber meeting included increased efforts by the city to spread tsunami evacuation awareness. That will be helped by this weekend’s fun run, which will take participants along the route of the inundation zone showing them exactly where “higher ground,” or the “blue line,” starts.
Koester also announced that construction on the new police station is slated to begin late this spring. She also gave an update on the much complained about Pioneer Avenue, which is maintained not by the city, but by the State of Alaska.
“The state does plan on advertising for the Pioneer repave project in April, and are anticipating a May start date,” she said.