In a relatively short meeting that ended at 7:30 p.m. Monday, the Homer City Council brought back to the table the continuing need for a new Homer Police Station. After voters turned down an up-to-a-$12 million bond and a seasonal sales tax of .65 percent, newly elected Mayor Bryan Zak said he would keep pushing for a solution that would replace the crowded, 1980s cop shop and jail on Heath Street.
Zak and the council jump-started that process again, forming a new Police Station Task Force at the Feb. 13 meeting. In a 5-1 vote, with council member Tom Stroozas voting no, the council passed Resolution 16-128(S), with amendments. While most council members agreed on the task force, they disagreed on a key point: what parameters on cost should the council give the task force in coming up with a plan?
Council member Heath Smith, an opponent of a more expensive police station that would include an indoor shooting range, proposed a low figure of $6 million. Smith pointed out the confusion that came with the fall vote, when the proposition set a cap of $12 million, former Public Safety Building Task Force chair Ken Castner said it could be built for $10 million and possibly less and others said the cop shop could be built for $6 million.
“That was confusing the proposition. We did not come out with one set number and stick with it,” Smith said.
Stroozas suggested another approach: having the new task force figure out what the public would be willing to pay and not set a cap. He made a motion to that effect, but it failed in a 4-2 vote, with Stroozas and council member Shelly Erickson voting yes.
Erickson put another idea on the table. What about a short-term lease to solve some of the problems with the current police station, like the need for more administrative space?
Erickson’s memorandum related interest by Kachemak Center owners Angie and Chris Newby in leasing the former shopping center on Pioneer Avenue across from the Homer Volunteer Fire Department. That wouldn’t include a jail, but could include office or dispatcher space.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said that approach might not work, since dispatchers, many of them women, often help out with jail duties like searching female prisoners or monitoring prisoners when jail officers are not in the building. One of the needs of a new police station is for segregated male, female and youth jail cells.
Smith then made an amendment suggesting the task force consider a building with a proposed budget not to exceed $6 million. The council tied, with council member Catriona Reynolds, Erickson and Smith voting yes. Zak broke the tie by voting no.
That led to two more proposals. An amendment capping the budget at $4.5 million also failed, with Erickson and Stroozas voting yes. Finally, on a 5-1 vote, with Stroozas voting no, the council agreed on an amendment by Reynolds asking for two proposals, one not to exceed $6 million and another not to exceed $9 million. The council also asked for the task force to finish its work by May 30, to give the council time to get a possible bond proposition on the ballot next October.
The Police Station Task Force will have five members, including one non-city resident member, and have support from Public Works Director Carey Meyer, Police Chief Mark Robl and Deputy City Clerk Renee Krause or their designees. Members interested in serving on the task force should contact the city clerk’s office.
In a work session, the council also considered a memorandum by City Manager Katie Koester asking if the council wanted to extend a three-year suspension of directing a .75-percent sales tax into the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails fund. The suspension allocates those revenues to the general fund.
The council set no official direction, but did discuss the idea of permanently directing part of the .75-percent sales tax to the general fund. Koester had suggested that .50 percent go to the general fund and .25 percent to the HART fund. The current suspension puts $1.1 million into the general fund, with $350,000 covering operating expenses in the 2017 budget and $750,000 going into non-mandatory transfers to reserves.
The .50-.25 HART tax split would put $350,000 into operating expenses and $500,000 to reserves, with the balance funding HART projects. In her memo, Koester said based on historical trends, the annual demand on the HART fund is about $500,000 a year for current or future projects. One of the intents of the HART fund was to partially fund special assessment districts, property-owner initiated projects for things like paving streets. Many SAD proposals fail, however, with not enough property owners approving them.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.