Q&A with this year’s Homer City Council candidates

The Homer News submitted these questions to all the candidates actively running for two 3-year seats on the Homer City Council. Their answers are printed as submitted. Andrew Kita did not return answers.

1) What is your vision for Homer?

Caroline Venuti: I want to insure that the City of Homer’s infrastructure is up to standards for safety and resilience in case of a natural disaster.

This includes all existing facilities as well as any new buildings which will be built with city funds. I want Homer to be a place where we listen to each other and participate in civil dialogue even when we disagree. I will work to help Homer become a place where each person has a stake and takes responsibility for the health of our community. I will continue to assure that all citizens have equal access to opportunities.

Sarah Vance: My vision is for Homer to be financially self sufficient; a town where individuals and families can live and thrive without having to seek employment elsewhere. A place providing opportunities for young families to grow and sustain lifelong residency while expanding healthcare options for all age groups.

I see a city council who protects the values of our little “hamlet by the sea” while promoting a strong and healthy economy that encourages a spirit of independence and self-government. Homer residents who foster an environment for a loving, generous, and positive future.

Dwayne G. Nustvold Jr.: To see Homer grow. To bring opportunity for this and future generations. To help our Seniors.

Stephen Mueller: My vision for Homer is one that leverages our Triple “A” blessings for the good of all Homer residents:

Abundant fisheries for commercial, charter, and personal fishing.

A topnotch deep-water harbor.

A “bucket list” destination for travel and tourism.

We are so blessed to live in a place that provides such wonderful resources, which through proper management and stewardship, can provide for the services and needs of our citizens.

Rachel Lord: My husband was born and raised here, left for college, and came back to work and raise a family. Many friends share this story. I vision a bright future for Homer where my kids have the same opportunity. The City provides strong fire and police, public works for quality roads and trails, clean drinking water and functioning sewer systems, a library serving the entire community, and a bustling port and harbor supporting robust marine trades. I look forward to coming to the table on City Council to work hard and with an open mind to see our community thrive.

Ketter: My vision is for us to heal from the division created among us as a result of the failed recall effort. I’d like to see a more diplomatic approach to resolving issues which plague our city and it’s People. Homer has exceptional services/programs to assist our struggling community members.

I envision the creation of year-round stable job opportunities, addressing the crisis with drugs, responsible maintenance of our budget, expanding our fishing industry, and fixing up the Spit.We must all make contributions and sacrifices to equally and fairly serve our whole community.

2) Do you support or oppose Homer Proposition 1, the proposal to use funds from the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails I (H.A.R.T.) program to include maintenance of local roads and trails? Why?

Venuti: I support Proposition 1. As we all know, the cost of living continues to rise and this situation applies to the City as well. The City of Homer has no deep pocket of money to provide for maintenance of our city’s infrastructure. We all expect to have safe roads and trails. Storm water run-off with associated erosion and potholes happen and it is the city’s responsibility to respond, Proposition 1 will provide funding.

Vance: I support Homer Proposition 1 to include maintenance of local roads and trails to the H.A.R.T. fund in order to give the city council flexibility to prioritize projects; maintain a balanced budget, and avoid increasing taxes.

Nustvold: I don’t want to take funds from anywhere, I want to support the businesses we have and bring in new businesses which will increase tax revenue and growth in Homer. Safety on our roads is a priority.

Mueller: I support Homer Proposition 1. The reason I support Homer Proposition 1 is because it is a rational answer for addressing budget gaps resulting from State revenue declines. Homer Proposition 1 authorizes City Council to assign available Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails (H.A.R.T.) funds, when needed, to road and trail maintenance. This results in the availability of general funds for other essential City services that would otherwise need to be cut drastically without new taxes.

Lord: With reduced revenues and capital funds from the State, Homer is looking at a substantial budget shortfall in 2019 when the H.A.R.T. suspension ends. Opening H.A.R.T. for maintenance is a critical piece for long-term fiscal stability. It is all too common to build without budgeting for the long term operations and maintenance costs. I do appreciate that new road and trail projects are expensive and the City will need to be mindful to maintain the H.A.R.T. fund for the future. The H.A.R.T. is important for maintaining City services in a lean fiscal climate, and I fully support Homer’s Prop 1.

Ketter: In 2015, I voted No on taking the .75% sales tax from H.A.R.T. and diverting it instead into the General Funds for three years. At this time we had 7 million in H.A.R.T. and as of now it’s 5.2 million. I understand the tight budget, but filling the gap in the budget was also the reasoning back then. I’m concerned about a process beginning to phase out H.A.R.T. in the future. Sales tax revenue soared this year and the .75% went into our General Funds. H.A.R.T. was crested to build roads ands trails. I’ll be voting NO on Prop 1 because it’s too questionable. I’m unwilling to play with H.A.R.T. Funds and the People’s money.

3) The city manager is required to deliver a balanced budget to the council. Looking at the 2017 budget, what items not in the budget do you think should have been there? What budget items would you cut to pay for them?

Venuti: The current 2017 budget is pretty slim. I don’t know where I would have proposed cuts as I was not an active participant in the discussion. If elected, I will work to insure that common sense prevails and that decisions will be made in the best interests of the public.

I am looking forward to reviewing the 2018 budget that the City Manager and Department Heads are working on, which will be presented in October. There is a finite amount of money for the City to work with and it is a decision of putting these funds to the best use for the common good.

Vance: The budgetary items I did not see for FY2017 are cuts made in order to avoid approximately a $1.2 million “hole” coming in 2019 when the H.A.R.T. fund allowance is suspended. We have had more than two years to make necessary cuts and adjustments to the budget to avoid a deficit, and none have been made. It is time we support our council in allowing them to make wise decisions on behalf of us all. As a fiscally responsible leader; my goal is to keep the Homer boat, afloat! I would consider cutting anything that is not an essential service in order to avoid sinking. Without making cuts; every person in Homer will end up paying more in property and sales tax with every purchase.

Nustvold: I would have to see a long term budget to see if we were creating a short fall in our future then I could make a better choices. I don’t like or act on short term fixes.

Mueller: Katie Koester, Homer City Manager, presented the City Council Adopted City Budget on December 5, 2016. Upon review, I found no glaring items that were omitted, especially in light of the fiscal constrains the City is working under.

I do think the current high focus on a new police station is justified, and needs to be resolved in a timely manner.

Lord: The City is operating in a lean fiscal climate. I think this years’ budget is reasonable for the services we provide and resources available.

Looking ahead, major staffing reductions and small-to-nonexistent Cost of Living Adjustments or merit increases for employees will likely lead to retention and recruitment problems for critical positions. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet, and no one budget cut to save the day.

By maintaining a high quality of life and city services, we encourage business and families to live in the City which ultimately provides revenue through existing sales and property tax structures.

Ketter: After close scrutiny of our budget I feel the following should have been included: Detox unit at SPH, The Grind Shack, the road needs paved and a sewer needs put in between the The Fish Factory and The Auction Block (constantly a river of water there), the Fish Dock needs re-paved, and I believe we should invest in a larger crane to lift containers in order to bring in a new source of revenue. To afford these projects I would cut all the proposed restroom projects, the East to West Transportation Corridor project, and the Pioneer to Anderson project.

4) The Cannabis Advisory Commission has recommended that the city revise its zoning regulations to allow retail cannabis sales on the Homer Spit. Do you support or oppose retail marijuana sales on the Spit? Why?

Venuti: I support legal retail cannabis sales on the Spit. It is naïve to assume that cannabis use does not occur on the Spit. There are restaurants, bars and liquor stores on the Spit who are currently allowed to sell alcohol. The cat is out-of-the-bag on this issue. The voters have already decided to legalize cannabis. It is better that the City &State controls this product than the black market.

Vance: The Cannabis Advisory Commission has made the recommendation in the past, and I do not support retail marijuana sales on the Spit. I am aware of only one retail marijuana shop in operation within the city limits and do not see a need in expanding current zoning regulations.

Nustvold: I would have to know more about why or why not on the Spit . I support commercial growers and sales in commercial zones that are regulated.

Mueller: I neither support or oppose retail marijuana sales on the Spit, but I have to wonder: 1. Who needs/wants to drive out on the spit in the winter, just to buy cannabis? Seriously, for well over half the year the Homer Spit is essentially a ghost town.

Ketter: I strongly support the sale of marijuana on the Homer spit because it’s a wonderful tourist attraction that I feel will draw higher volumes of tourists to our city. It’s a good asset to rack in more revenue and create jobs. It also will provide a peaceful environment on the Homer spit. Not to mention, there will be a reduction in black-market marijuana sales.

Lord: I support retail cannabis sales on non-City leased lands on the Spit. The voters of Alaska spoke when they legalized cannabis in 2014, and there is great potential revenue from sales taxes as a result of the legal sale of cannabis in Homer. Good planning and zoning isn’t easy but can provide a strong framework for positive growth.

I appreciate efforts that lead to an economically vibrant, resilient, and safer City that can grow and maintain a high quality of life for all residents – especially with new industries entering the community.

5) Have you ever been in trouble with the law? If yes, how?

Venuti: No.

Vance: As a law abiding citizen; I have had no trouble with, and fully support our law enforcement.

Nustvold: No.

Mueller: No.

Lord: With the exception of a ticket in 2008 for a headlight out in my car, no, I have never been in trouble with the law.

Ketter: I have been in trouble with the law and had direct consequences due to the disease of addiction. I lost rights to my only child, had personal possession and paraphernalia charges, and DUIs.