Building design moves forward

Recognizing some citizen reluctance to the idea of funding a public safety building that could cost as much as $30 million, the Homer City Council on Monday rejected a proposal to appropriate $621,000 for a 35-percent design of a new police and fire building. It did pass on a 5-1 vote an amended ordinance appropriating $355,000 for a “modified” 35-percent design.

“I think there’s a lot of controversy around taking the public safety building to the next design phase,” said council member Beau Burgess. “I think bringing it to half that amount is a good step.”

The compromise came about after the public safety design team of Stantec determined it could come up with a “modified” 35-percent design that would help to educate the public, define the project cost and keep the project going. The money would come from 2015 state revenue-sharing funds, a funding source that can only be used for specific projects and not for general budget purposes.

Homer Mayor Beth Wythe has been a strong proponent of moving ahead on the public safety building project, saying the existing police station and jail provides substandard working and housing conditions for police department employees and prisoners.

“You can’t just go on forever with duct tape and baling wire,” Wythe said. “Pretty soon there is not something to weld to, to tape together.”

Acknowledging that Alaska’s fiscal situation is tight and state grants aren’t likely, Wythe has said at several council meetings that a 35-percent design allows the city to be ready to go should other funding sources become available. “When money comes for this project, I want us to be ready to step in and go,” she said.

Council member Gus VanDyke said he supported the compromise ordinance.

“Everybody knows I’m probably the most fiscally conservative person in the room,” VanDyke said. “I think the most prudent thing we can do is approve this and get this to the point where we flat say, ‘It’s time to do this. Let’s build it.’”

Council member Bryan Zak was the only vote against the ordinance. He said he recognized the importance of public safety but felt now is not the time to think about building a $30 million project.

“We’re digging a hole here. Now’s the time to back out of this,” Zak said.

Wythe bristled at the description of the building as being $30 million. That’s only an estimate, she said.

“The more times we toss out numbers, we’re promulgating false information,” she said. “The real number has not been determined.”

As the ordinance’s language says, that’s part of what would be determined in the modified 35-percent design.

Noting discussion earlier about the Parks and Recreation Commission’s work on beach policy, and how some said their efforts should not stop at the council level, Wythe said so it is with the Public Safety Building Committee.

“The work the Public Safety Building Committee has done is no less diligent and more important than if people drive their car on the beach,” Wythe said.

Later, in comments of the mayor, speaking about the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District, “I would much rather pay my assessment to Enstar to police and fire protection. I would pay 10 times over. This is a much more important project.”

The $355,000 includes a schematic design and $20,000 to assess hazardous materials in the Homer Educational and Recreational Complex, the site of the proposed building. That would help identify the cost of demolishing the HERC building.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at