The months-long, sometimes contentious debate over the City of Homer’s wintertime tax on non-prepared foods is finally over. The Homer City Council rejected a measure to reinstate the tax at its meeting Monday night.
Although the meeting lacked the large crowd of people seen at the last meeting December 10th, a handful of folks still came forward to let their feelings on the matter be known.
Michael Kennedy pointed out that voters have addressed the grocery tax issue before and made their feelings clearly known that they are in favor of the wintertime tax holiday.
"To have a tax on food, prepared or non-prepared, is a hostage situation," said Kennedy. "To have a tax on food or medicine is regressive."
Council members heard from a handful of people Monday night, the latest in a long line of testifiers on the controversial grocery tax issue. Early in the debate, much of the public testimony seemed weighted in favor of reinstating the tax to help pay for city services. In recent meetings, however, the pendulum shifted and the majority of testimony echoed that of Kennedy – that the tax was regressive and aimed squarely at those who could least afford it.
Later Monday night, when the council was drawing closer to a final vote on the subject, council member Bryan Zak took issue with that sentiment.
"This is not designed ... to take away money from needy people who can't put food in their mouths," he said. "It's providing city services to the greater good of the whole."
It was Zak who originally proposed that the 4.5-percent grocery tax be reinstated to help pay for a variety of services, including funding for the Homer Senior Center, the Homer Chamber of Commerce and a Cost of Living Allowance for city employees.
Council member Francie Roberts said she would vote for the tax, mainly out of concern for city employees.
Council members voted the grocery tax measure down by a narrow vote of 3 to 2, with Roberts and Zak casting the “yes” votes.
And in the end, council members who have found themselves in the middle of this thorny issue for months earned some praise from at least one of their toughest critics - Michael Kennedy.
The grocery tax holiday enjoyed by the citizens of Homer and the Kenai Peninsula Borough will remain in place, with taxes on non-prepared foods kicking in again May 31st.