Five of the seven candidates running for two seats on the Homer City Council squared off one final time before Election Day Thursday. Candidates took both prepared and audience questions on a range of issues, but concerns about the current business climate, economic growth and capital projects stole the show.
City council candidates Andrew Kita and Kimberly Ketter were both absent, but the remaining five candidates gathered at the Homer Elks Lodge for the Homer Chamber of Commerce’s city council forum.
For its prepared questions, the Chamber primarily focused on economic growth and the business climate.
When asked how the city could help businesses succeed, candidates’ responses varied. Sarah Vance thinks finding affordable retail space is the biggest barrier for new businesses in town.
Rachel Lord, who sits on the Economic Advisory Council, said there is only so much the city can do, but she said if anything can be done, efforts should be focused on existing businesses.
“We know that up to 80 percent of job growth in rural communities especially comes from existing businesses,” Lord explained. “It’s really imperative that we look and we start that conversation and we ask how can we make things better. What can the city do to improve the business climate to make sure our existing businesses are successful and thriving?”
Dwane Nustvold Jr. wants the city to focus on infrastructure improvements that would attract new businesses, namely in the trucking and shipping industry.
Stephen Mueller agreed with Nustvold. He thinks the city could foster significant economic growth by building a new harbor and a haul-out facility for large vessels, two priority projects in the city’s capital improvement plan.
“What we would be able to do from that is not going cure all of our ills,” he said, “but it will certainly give us the revenues and provide the jobs and the security so we could at least start knocking off a few of the problems, maybe move on and start worrying about other things.”
The city is in the midst of the haul-out project, but it still needs to secure about $4.5 million for the final two phases.
When it came down to a new police station, the city’s number one priority for capital improvements, candidates were all in agreement the council needs to get behind a project. Over the past three years, the council has gone through two task forces, and a $12 million bond proposition for a new station failed in 2016.
Vance said she supports constructing a new building at the corner of Heath Street and Grubstake Avenue. The council is currently waiting on a preliminary design for that option. Vance also suggested selling off city property to help pay for the facility, comments Mueller echoed.
Venuti’s answer was a bit vague, but she noted that she wants to see what the city will get for $6 million before making her decision.
“I will be very interested in looking at the study and the results of it, and I will make sure the decision on this issue will be made with common sense and in the very best interest of the public,” she elaborated.
Lord didn’t definitively say which way she leans on the issue, but she did say that she thinks the council and the community can support a $6 million project.
Election Day is next Tuesday and polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.