City ready for police station design after voters green-light the project

Jun 27, 2018

Credit Shahla Farzan, KBBI News

A majority of Homer residents who voted in a special election Tuesday gave the city the green light to build a new $7.5 million police station. Absentee ballots are extremely unlikely to shift Tuesday’s results, and the city is gearing up to begin the design and construction process.

The bond proposition asked residents to approve raising the city’s sales tax .35 percent to pay for $5 million of the project.

Just over 600 voters cast their ballots at the polls throughout the day Tuesday.  Including absentee ballots, voter turnout was at about 16 percent. Roughly 64 percent of ballots cast on Tuesday were in favor of the bond proposition, and just over a third opposed the measure.

As of Tuesday morning, the city clerk’s office received roughly 170 absentee ballots. Those votes will be counted by the canvass board Friday and more ballots could arrive via mail before the results are certified. Still, election results are unlikely to shift.

Homer Police Chief Mark Robl was pleased with the results and credited former Homer Mayor Beth Wythe with bringing the need for a new police station into public view about five years ago.

“She put forth the idea that we needed a new police station and pushed very hard for it and fought to keep it at the forefront of public discussion,” Robl said. “If anyone deserves special credit out of the group, it would be her.”

The new station will replace the current antiquated building off Heath Street, which was built roughly 40 years ago. Robl said the new building will be a significant upgrade.

“It’s going to give us the critical space that we need to enhance our investigations capabilities, our evidence processing capabilities. It’s going to give us more room to spread out and operate more efficiently with the many program needs that we have,” he explained. “It’s going to be a vast improvement for us now, and I think it’s going to be big enough to last several decades.”

Tuesday’s results followed roughly four years of work towards a new station on the Homer City Council and multiple task forces. The first attempt led to a $12 million bond proposition, which failed at the ballot box in 2016.

City council member Heath Smith was elected to his seat towards the end of that process, and Smith has spent his time on the council working towards a more affordable option. He led the charge on liquidating the city’s permanent fund and worked to allocate other pockets of money towards the project as they became available.

“I think the process was cleaner. I think it was more involved. The polls show that it was a successful run,” Smith said when asked about the city council’s work on the project.

The city estimates that the $5 million bond residents will be paying for will be paid off before the end of its 20-year term.

Most of the tax increase that will accompany the new building will sunset once the bond is paid off, but some of the increase, .05 percent, will remain on the books to pay for increased maintenance costs. The tax increase will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

The city council is due to certify the election results on July 2, and the design process for the new station will get underway later that month.

The city plans to reach out to the public for comment as the design process progresses. Public Works Director Carey Meyer said residents can expect to see a partially completed design early this fall. Meyer adds that the city will reach out at least two more times during the design process.

The city plans to break ground at the site of the new police station off Heath Street and Grubstake Avenue next spring, and the building is expected to be complete by the fall of 2019.