Council looks at using surplus for Skyline Drive fire station

Hearing on Monday that the city took in $400,000 more in revenues than it spent in 2013, the Homer City Council got back to basic services and passed two actions to support the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, including adding funds to build a heated, four-bay fire station on Skyline Drive at the northern edge of city limits.

On the consent agenda, the council moved forward on first reading and introduction an ordinance that would appropriate $15,000 from the fire depreciation reserve account and $83,000 from the general fund for the Skyline Drive station. 

The city already has $500,000 for the project, part of a grant the Alaska Legislature reallocated from an earlier, unused grant for Main Street and Sterling Highway intersection improvements. 

The council also passed an amended ordinance appropriating $10,890 for three new laptop computers for the fire department. The original ordinance would have paid for the ToughBook laptops out of the fire depreciation reserve, now at about $52,000. The amended ordinance takes the money out of the general fund reserve, a “rainy day” account the city keeps on hand that’s about three months of city expenses, an amount suggested by auditors.

At the Committee of the Whole meeting before the regular meeting, City Manager Walt Wrede gave the council some good news: in 2013, the city took in $400,000 more in revenues than it spent. 

In discussing the ordinance to add $98,000 to the Skyline Drive fire station project — essentially, adding one more truck bay — the council looked at if it should dip into the fire depreciation reserve or, as it did with the laptops, take money out of the general fund reserve.

“I won’t object to spending additional money,” said council member Gus VanDyke in supporting the ordinance to add money to the fire station project. “It’s one of those four core purposes I keep harping about, which is public safety.”

The Skyline Drive Fire Station would be unstaffed, but would garage four pieces of fire equipment: a reserve engine, a tanker-pumper truck, an ambulance and a wildland fire brush truck. Based in an area annexed in 2003, the Skyline Drive station would serve those more rural areas. It also would make it a downhill trip for a tanker-pumper, said HVFD Chief Bob Painter. Weighing 57,000 pounds, “That takes a lot of time to get up East Hill,” Painter said of the truck.

The ordinance to add money to the Skyline Drive fire station project goes up for a public hearing and second reading at the March 24 meeting.