Public safety building not best use of money

On Tuesday, May 26, there was the first of two readings for Ordinance 15-18 (s) at the Homer City Council meeting. The ordinance amends the FY2015 capital budget by “appropriating $621,500 from the general fund balance to the public safety building project account to fund the new public safety building to 35 percent design.” 

The second reading for Ordinance 15-18(s) is June 29. If the city council passes this ordinance, the City of Homer will come close to spending one million dollars toward this monster of a building. I say, make it stop. 

The state funding for this $28-million project is simply not there. Look at what has been happening in Juneau.Cuts are across the board. We have been warned. Plan ahead. Things are changing. So, why do Homer Mayor Beth Wythe and members of the Public Safety Building Committee, people who pride themselves on making sound financial decisions for us, keep pushing this version of the project forward? 

From reading the minutes, the only person worried about where the money will come from or the public buy-in is the chair, Ken Castner. My fear is that the city council will pass the ordinance and next year, when our beloved nonprofits like Sprout, the Homer Foundation, the Pratt Museum,  Homer Council on the Arts, Kachemak Ski Club, Homer Hockey Association and Homer Cycling Club, to name a few, will come and ask for help and the answer will be a resounding no. Why? The general fund money went to getting the public safety building design to 35 percent.

 What makes me even more upset about this is that even if we pay for the design out of our general fund next year, there is no guarantee that the building will ever be built. In this bare bones finance climate we need to get a reality check on this Public Safety Building. The point is not whether we need a Public Safety Building, it is whether the present Public Safety Building Commitee is making sound decisions by pushing this pie-in-the-sky version of a new building forward. 

Most people don’t know this but the current design for the Public Safety Building puts it at 155,000-square feet. Homer Middle School is less than that. I would like to see our city council members require a bit more accountability from the Public Safety Building Commitee. In what alternate reality do they live?

Here is another scenario. We scale down the project. Instead of sucking the general fund dry next year (when state funding will be at a new low), we hold that money for our nonprofit organizations who will spread it around in the form of early childhood education and community health programs not to mention recreational and cultural events which we have come to depend on. I am talking about our quality of life. Sure, right now it is hard to imagine. It’s sunny and we are outside a lot of the time. Next winter, however, when we need help keeping our kids and ourselves busy and engaged, the money will have been spent. And the next year? The next? 

With the way things are going, this may not be the only year we will be scraping from the general fund, or not building a road. What is the plan? Do we all have to carry the burden of this $28-million-dollar dream building until seven to 10 years from now when it finally gets built? Boy, that makes me feel safe. 

By that time, we will have chased all the young families, artists and recreational enthusiasts out of town but we will be able to house some serious criminals. Good for us. 

Please, Homer City Council, do not pass Ordinance  15-18 on June 8. What is the real path? What is the real plan? It’s time for one which doesn’t include using every dollar of city money that isn’t tied down.

Kate Crowley is a Homer resident who organizes monthly meetings for ReCreate Rec, a citizen action group dedicated to discussing and solving the problems surrounding recreation, arts, culture and community health on the southern Kenai Peninsula. ReCreate Rec has been meeting regularly for two years.