I’m going to try and keep this positive, but I must say that I’m mildly annoyed, and very perplexed, about the lack of support the three people running for Homer City Council have for the Homer Police Department in denying them the opportunity to move out of a cramped and deteriorated building and into a properly sized and designed facility.
One candidate believes we need to wait for other “user groups” to commit project funding; another professes an expertise in the cost of commercial construction; and the third believes that if we spend this type of money, it should be on social projects.
We incorporated as a first-class city for the purposes of providing services that cannot be individually achieved. Police and fire protection are core services, ones that are awarded high priority, city center locations, and significant public funding. The fact is that the city has not only outgrown, but underfunded the annual maintenance, of the existing stations.
I am fully aware that these are worrisome times for municipal governments. Municipal grants from the Alaska State Legislature are a practice of the past. Legislators have other priorities for diminishing funds. This is truly a case of Homer having to do this completely on our own. That is reason that instead of facing a bond proposition funding brand-new fire and police stations, you are being asked to renovate an existing school building and add an annex for the police. The council, earlier this year, funded a renovation and maintenance package for the existing fire station. That work is currently under way. Finding solutions have, this year, been largely focused on project achievement for the least amount of money.
Is it affordable? The annual cost of the debt obligation is the same no matter what the final construction cost: about $43 per household per year paid through a seasonal sales tax of 65 cents on each $100 of taxable sales. And, unlike an ad valorem tax on property, the sales tax will catch the participation of the warm-month snowbirds and visitors that add to the workload of the departments. The cost of construction, which I believe will be some distance short of the $12 million authorization, will determine how many years of payments will be needed.
The Homer City Council will establish the amount of bonded indebtedness after the general contractor delivers the Guaranteed Maximum Price for the project. If the bond proposition is passed next week by the voters, and work immediately begins on the engineering and design of the annex, the earliest the police could move into the new facility would be sometime in 2018.
I earn my living doing cost estimates for public works projects around the State of Alaska. I offer an informed opinion about the cost of construction. Those speaking out against bonding for this important improvement to a core city function offer no “Plan B.” If Proposition 1 fails, the work we’ve done over the last 2 ½ years will be abandoned. The design and construction team will be dismissed. Perhaps a new committee will be formed to make a multi-year assessment of the needs, program elements and construction costs. I believe it is likely that they will end up right where we are today, but with a price that is assuredly “different.” Our public safety employees deserve better than that.
Please vote “Yes” on Proposition 1.
Ken Castner is a longtime Homer resident and served as chair of the the Public Safety Building Committee.