Koester: Station still needed; next step up to council

In an election where all three Homer City Council candidates opposed a $12-million bond to build a new Homer Police station, voters followed the candidates’ lead and rejected Homer Proposition 1.

That proposition would have paid for a new station with a six-month, April-September, 0.65-percent sales tax increase. City officials calculated the average cost to taxpayers would have been $43 a year.

The station was to be built on the site of the Homer Educational and Recreational Complex and incorporate part of the old school building in its design. With unofficial results, Prop 1 was failing with 607 no votes, or 53 percent, to 540 yes votes, or 47 percent. However, about 300 absentee, early voting, special needs and questioned ballots remain to be counted, so the result could change.

Homer City Manager Katie Koester, Homer Police Chief Mark Robl and Public Safety Building Committee chair Ken Castner all said they were disappointed at the vote. Koester said she was heartened by the people who did favor the new police station.

“I think the public is frustrated with the high cost of public facilities, which I understand. However, there are costs associated with building a facility that meets current codes and standards with public dollars that cannot be avoided,” Koester said. “I don’t know a person who has toured the current station that did not walk away an ardent supporter of a new one. The need for a new police station has not gone away, but the next steps are in city council’s hands and I will be looking to them for guidance.”

Robl also thanked the voters who did support the new station.

“I’m not sure why it failed. I hesitate to guess the reason,” he said. “I didn’t hear from people not in support of the project.”

Castner said he tried his best to convince voters of the need for a new police station and why the proposal was the best way to do it.

“I gave it my best shot,” he said. “I feel terrible for the people who work there.”

The bond proposition authorized borrowing up to $12 million, but Castner said he thought construction could be done for less than that. The Public Safety Committee and design team had whittled the Public Safety Building project down from an initial $30 million concept to a police-station only building and $1 million in improvements to the existing Homer Volunteer Fire Department station. The committee also cut costs for a new building by repurposing the HERC, mainly for evidence storage and a firing range.’

Even at that, voters balked.

“When we got down to problem solving, everyone was convinced we were going to build a Taj Mahal,” Castner said.

Shelly Erickson, the top vote-getter in the three-candidate city council race, said she thinks financial uncertainty in Alaska played a role in rejecting the bond. Voters also defeated a Kenai Peninsula Borough proposition to raise the sales-tax purchase cap from $500 to $1,000 and another proposition phasing out the borough’s optional $150,000 senior property tax exemption.

“Look at the stuff that failed at the borough,” Erickson said. “I think with our world so uncertain and the state going to put either an income tax or sales tax, we don’t know. I think things are tighter for people than we’re acknowledging.”

The second-place council candidate, Tom Stroozas, said he supported a new police station, “but not at that price.” Erickson and Stroozas won election in the two-seat council race. He said he thinks the police station plan can still move ahead.

“I feel confident that we will be able to bring a plan to the community that the people of Homer will approve and we can move forward with this structure,” Stroozas said.

Castner said the council didn’t have an alternative plan.

“There is no Plan B,” he said. “It wasn’t my responsibility to have a Plan B. Plan A was to get this passed and work on the construction project.”

Bryan Zak, the presumptive winner in the Homer mayor race, said the next step is working with the Public Safety Building Committee, asking it to come up with a new plan and bring it to the council.

“Have the council work together and see what we can pull out of the ashes now that it got defeated,” Zak said.

Castner said that will happen without him.

“I guess I’m done. My job is over,” he said.

Robl said he didn’t know what would come next.

“I don’t have any ideas at this point. I think it’s time to sit back and let this rest for a while before we discuss any options,” he said.

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