Rec center funding back on city council’s agenda

A proposal by Homer Mayor Beth Wythe to fund at $600,000 a community recreation center that died at the March 29 Homer City Council meeting came back in a different form on the agenda Monday night. Wythe had proposed a grant that would come out of city reserves, but council member David Lewis upped the grant to $900,000 and that would come out of the city’s $1.2 million Permanent Fund.

Both proposals would support the South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Complex, a plan by the Soccer Association of Homer to build a 70-foot-by-100-foot indoor sports field. At Monday’s meeting, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Kelly Cooper, Homer, told the council the borough supported letting SPARC be built on a vacant ball field near Homer Middle School — a $250,000 in-kind land donation.

“Homer needs activities in the winter. This addresses all ages, from the very young to the old,” Cooper said. “I’m going to support it all the way.”

Lewis’ ordinance, 16-18, passed on introduction in a 5-1 vote, with council member Heath Smith voting no. On a motion by council member Bryan Zak, the council approved an amendment reducing the grant to $225,000. To pass, 16-18 must be approved on second reading and after a public hearing.

In public comments, Barb Brodowski spoke against taking $900,000 from the Permanent Fund. She said she wondered why the city hadn’t tapped into the fund last fall when it was trying to balance the budget, and why recreation merited support over things like aging police patrol cars.

“If the city can find $900,000 to fund recreation, then there is no reason for any kind of user tax in the future,” she said.

That fiscal conservatism found support from Wythe and council members Catriona Reynolds and Heath Smith.

“As much as I hate to say this, because I think there’s a lot to this ordinance, I don’t think this is the right time to do this,” Reynolds said.

“I think we’re better off using that in an investment that pays back in better forms, like our fire hall improvement,” Smith said.

Wythe agreed.

“I can’t even begin to speak to the short-sightedness of spending this money,” she said.

The Soccer Association of Homer hadn’t sought city support, and can build the 7,000-square-foot SPARC without any monetary grants. The association needs to raise $230,000 to build it.

Anders Gustafson of the association said it wasn’t asking for money.

“We would like the city to participate in some manner,” he said.

If the city did kick in more funding, the SPARC could be 12,000-square-feet, big enough to add Pickle Ball fields, the popular sport now being played in the old gym of the Homer Recreation and Education Complex.

The HERC building is on the site of a proposed Public Safety Building campus that some would like to see include a new police station and fire station. If the fire station were built, the HERC would have to be torn down. Balking at a $30 million price tag, the council had earlier voted to support a scaled-back campus that would be for just a police station and remodel the existing fire station.

Also on Monday, the council approved a transfer of $80,000 from the Public Safety Building account to the Fire Station Improvement for services to assess, design and build the fire station remodel.

Public Safety Review Committee Chair Ken Castner also updated the council on another idea: using the HERC as part of the new police station. A structural engineer looked at the HERC and said it could be used for things like evidence storage and an indoor shooting range. To do so would cost about $150 a square foot, bargain rates for a complicated civic building. That answered a question about if the HERC could be used to cut the cost of the police station, Castner said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at