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Voters will decide if city can give HART a new beat

September 14th, 2017 | Tommy Wells Print this article   Email this article  

Amendment would add road,trail maintenance as eligible use of funds

The voters of Homer will be called on to decide whether the City of Homer can give the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails (HART) program a new beat ... err, better make that a slightly new direction.

The Homer City Council, through Proposition I on the upcoming Oct. 3 ballot, is seeking voters' permission to amend the HART Program to add road and trail maintenance as an eligible use of the funds, as well as use the program as a budget deficit solution as a way to prevent cuts to essential services or the need for new taxes. In 2015, city voters overwhelmingly approved a 3-year deal in which the city uses existing HART tax revenue to support citizen-prioritized road and trail maintenance activities. That period will expire at the end of next year.

Under Proposition I, the city currently uses existing HART tax revenues on public transportation infrastructure, while also using it to provide an extra revenue source to meet demands for essential city services.

At the end of 2018, the HART suspension grace period will end, returning the 0.75 percent in tax revenues to the HART Program.

"Prop 1 puts forth a reasonable solution to bridge the budget gap," said Jenny Carroll in a release from the city on Sept. 8. "It's a solution that utilizes existing HART tax revenues to support citizen-prioritized road and trail maintenance activities, and helps avoid the need for sweeping cuts to the essential services we expect from our city government or new taxes."

Homer voters established the HART program in 1987 to upgrade substandard roads and build new roads and trails. When it was created, voters authorized the city to collect a 0.75 percent sales tax to fund the program. To date, the HART program has a balance of approximately $5.2 million.

"Prop 1 is an important decision for Homer voters," the release said. "In the past few years, city revenues have significantly declined due to the down turn in the price of oil, the ensuing State revenue shortfall and the overall contraction of the statewide economy in combination with the elimination of the winter sales tax on non-prepared foods. During this time, the city council, city administration and the community have worked diligently through three "Closing the Gap" town hall meetings and an online budget survey to address a $1.2-million revenue shortfall."

The Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails program has helped upgrade and build new roads, including Grubstake and Snowbird near the post office. Plans are for HART program funds to be used to extend Greatland Street. Additionally, the program was used recently to help build the Upper Woodard Creek Trail in Karen Hornaday Park, and is being used currently to complete sidewalks on Soundview Avenue.

According to the city, only about half of the HART revenues collected are used. Amending the program guidelines will enable the city to do more to benefit Homer residents.

Proposition 1, according to the release, gives the residents of Homer a solution that uses HART funds to support the intent of the original program - a good road and trail network. It would also enable to city, annually, to dedicate a percentage of HART funds to capital projects to keep up with demand for road and trail improvements, new construction and Special Assessment Districts, while allocating funds to road and trail maintenance which is integral to a well-functioning transportation system.

In the current fiscal climate, the city will still need to operate on a tight budget and continue to seek out and enact cost-saving measures.

"Proposition 1 is a big step on the way toward fiscal balance," the city administration said in the release. "HART can help maintain our roads and trails - a growing system we depend upon daily for work, school and play - while still contributing funds to build the new roads and trails we need."

Proposition I will be among several issues voters will go to the polls to decide on Oct. 3.


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