Task Force Looks to Trim Cost of New Harbor Office

     The group in charge of design plans and construction of a new harbormaster’s office in Homer has found ways to cut down on the budget. But the task force will still likely need a little extra from the city to build the new office.

     The group will need about $300,000 more according to the latest drawings and building designs. During the Port and Harbor Building Task Force’s November meeting, the members reevaluated the design and considered slowing down the project in order to secure funding. 

     They’ve cut out about 300 square feet from the original plans and Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer said estimates from local contractors helped dial in expected costs. He also compared costs for projects like construction for city hall and the buildings that make up the Kachemak Bay Campus. Meyer said they arrived at a rate of $416 per square foot.

     “The $416 is comparable to the types of costs that those building incurred, and the quality is kind of similar,” he said. 

     He said the roughly $2.3 million price tag for the current office design might also include a slight buffer to make sure there’s enough money in place. That’s in case something unexpected came up. Meyer said there are other sections that could be cut, like a small maintenance garage. But he isn’t too keen on that idea. 

     Council member Barbara Howard serves on the task force. She said there are three options for the group at this point.

     “We go to the council and ask them to find $300,000, and we have ideas of where we can get that from; mostly general fund reserve or a loan. Or we can go to them and take out the garage and ask for $150,000. Or, we can say… we buy Happy Face and we’ll give you $50,000 moving expenses and say move in,” she said.  

     Howard said she prefers moving forward with the plans at hand and requesting the full $300,000. She said buying Happy Face on the Spit and retrofitting it for the Harbormaster office needs isn’t the right move for the long term. 

     But Howard pointed out the task force is going to need to know what city fund they can pull money from if they’re going to get consensus from the Port and Harbor Commission or the city council. Some members of the commission have said in the past they don’t want to borrow the money. 

     “If we’re looking at a loan and it has to be paid back, the Harbor Commission is going to say off of whose back.”

     The majority of the funds for this project are coming from a legislative grant that totals $1.5 million. City officials assured lawmakers they could kick in at least $500,000 to help with costs. That money will likely come from the port and harbor reserve fund. The city council has yet to officially approve that sum.

     City Manager Walt Wrede said a loan to make up the difference could come for the city’s general fund reserves. That means the city would essentially be loaning money to itself and revenues from the harbor would be used to pay it back over time. Wrede mentioned five years would probably be enough.

     “I think that would be comfortable, knowing what I know about the harbor’s revenues,” he said.

     The group plans to make a report to the city council during its Jan. 13 meeting. More formal requests won’t happen until April because the task force is waiting on a more specific budget from the design firm. 

     Howard said starting early with the council could prevent sticker shock when they bring more solid budget figures and requests for money. The group also wants to stay on schedule because a year delay could drive up costs.