Council puts police station bond on ballot

From police patrol cars to possibly a new station, the Homer City Council at its regular Monday night meeting offered some relief to the Homer Police Department. A low-ticket item was $65,000 for two used Fords, but topping the list was up to $12 million in bonds to build a new police station.

The council passed without objection an ordinance authorizing the purchase of two slightly used Ford Police Interceptor all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicles. In a memo, Homer Police Lieutenant Will Hutt said the city could buy state surplus SUVs that came from dismantling the Bureau of Highway Patrol team. The black SUVs each have about 2,000 miles and would cost $25,000 each. Equipment from the old HPD cars would be installed in the Interceptors. Hutt noted that mileage on another Interceptor has been better than that of sedans while allowing better access on rough and icy roads.

The bond issue, however, ran into some dissent. The ordinance proposes to put to the voters two questions:

• Shall the city purchase up to $12 million in bonds to build a new police station at the site of the Homer Education and Recreational Complex at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway?

• Shall the sales tax be raised 1 percent from 4.5 to 5.5 percent for six months to pay for the purchase of the building, with the tax sunsetting when the bond is paid off?

Several citizens raised questions about the proposition.

“Anywhere when you’re in a time of extreme insecurity, this is not the time to be doing anything,” said Nancy Hillstrand, a Spit business owner. “I think we need to slow down on this thing.”

Scott Adams questioned some items in the proposed police station, such as a $325,000 gym and an indoor shooting range. He said he didn’t think a $12 million bond would pass.

“The number has to be lower than 12 (million dollars), I have to honestly tell you. It has to be in the nine range. It has to be low. You guys are expecting a lot from people,” Adams said.

Ken Castner, a member of the Public Safety Building Review Committee, the city group that has been working with architects on the design of the building, said he thought $12 million seemed like a good limit. The original idea proposed a $30 million police and fire complex. Castner said using an existing site already cut some costs, like bringing in utilities. He said the committee also supports a concept that no facility like the HERC gym or the skateboard park will be orphaned.

In discussion, council member Heath Smith proposed a cost savings: cut the seasonal tax to .65 percent. That would still raise about $790,000, a sufficient amount to pay the annual bond payment. The cost of the bond will depend on interest rates available for municipal bonds. At .65 percent, that would raise the seasonal sales tax to 5.15 percent instead of the 5.5 percent proposed.

Council member David Lewis objected to that amendment. Keeping the sales tax at the higher rate and paying it off at a higher amount would mean the bond could be paid off sooner, with a reduction in the overall interest payment. On a 4-1 vote with Lewis opposed, Smith’s amendment passed. Council member Gus VanDyke had an excused absence from the meeting.

On a vote on the ordinance as amended, Lewis joined the other council members in voting yes, with the measure passing unanimously,

“The question will go to the voters for a determination of where we go from here,” Mayor Beth Wythe said.

“Twelve million is a tough sale,” Smith said at the end of the meeting. “There’s work to do.”

The proposition will go on the Oct. 4 ballot. With the failure of a citizen group that tried by petition to put on the ballot the question of whether commercial cannabis should be banned, the bond proposition is the only proposition on the ballot.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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