With the 28th Alaska State Legislature set to gavel in next month, cities and towns across Alaska are getting ready to make pitches for their favorite pet projects. In Homer, the number one item on the list is a $15 million-dollar public safety building, a project that was fast-tracked by the city council earlier this year. But at least one city official is wondering if now is the right time to make a push for the new building.
During the last city council meeting November 25th, Homer City Manager Walt Wrede told council members that city staff was a bit “concerned” about the public safety building project, wondering if it was “ready for prime time.” He advised the council that it might be best to wait a year before asking the state legislature for funding.
Wrede says he is concerned that there is no site plan for the proposed building and no firm numbers on what the project might cost. His biggest concern, though, is how the project has been perceived in the community.
"There (are) a lot of folks who are interested in recreation and are very reluctant to see that gymnasium go away," said Wrede. "And then there are fiscal conservatives out there who are thinking, 'there the city goes again; they want to build a huge Taj Mahal, kind of like the library."
The public safety building came up during the municipal election earlier this year, with several of the candidates for city council wondering how the project shot up to the top of the city’s Capital Improvement Project list so quickly.
Wrede says he has heard those concerns and thinks it’s incumbent on the city to explain to its citizens the need for the new facility. In the meantime, he points out that the $1.2 million dollars the council is asking for from the legislature would only pay for the first step in the process – engineering and design work. He says the public works department is now preparing a request for proposals for the design and engineering work. The city council has already approved $300,000 as a local match.
Wrede says it’s entirely possible that the HERC building site may not end up being the final location for anew public safety building but when a handful of other locations were considered, the HERC lot was the one that stood out.
"It has a number of obvious advantages," he said. "It has road access on two sides, it's got water, its' got sewer ... and the city owns the property."
Any other property would likely require an investment in infrastructure, says Wrede, and possibly the acquisition of new land.
At the city council meeting, council members balked at Wrede’s suggestion to wait a year to ask the legislature for money, with some of them pointing to the urgent need for new public safety facilities in Homer. Mayor Beth Wythe said that she was afraid that waiting a year might derail the entire plan.
Wrede says the council would like to soon meet with Homer’s legislators to brief them on the public safety building project and the rest of the CIP list. The legislative session begins January 21st.