Funding remains a sticking point for new police station

Jun 27, 2017

Homer Police Department
Credit Aaron Bolton, KBBI News

After two years of work towards a new facility to house Homer’s police department, the Homer City Council can’t agree on how to move forward. After voters shot down a $12 million option in 2016, several council members want to know how much the public is willing to pay. But, the council voted against spending money to answer that question Monday.

Council member Donna Aderhold brought a resolution forward that would contract Stantec, who has worked with the city on the project, to conduct a survey to find out how much Homer residents are willing to pay. Stantec would have also been contracted for additional community outreach, such as a public meeting, but the proposal failed in a 4-2 vote.

The Police Station Building Task Force provided $6 million and $9 million options to the council in late May, but some council members found the options to be too vague or too expensive to move forward with a ballot proposition this fall.

“So that’s why I brought this forward. If this is not where the council wants to go, that’s fine, but that still leaves us dead in the water,” Aderhold explained. “So we have to come up with a way forward with this police station.”

The task force also diverted from previous iterations of the plan and proposed building on a new site just north of the post office. Council member Heath Smith worked closely with the task force. He reiterated concerns over the more expensive option.

“We don’t have the money to operate a $9 million building. If we’re proposing that we can put that on a ballot, get it passed and on top of that, get passed an additional tax increase to operate it, I think we would be fooling ourselves,” Smith said.

He noted the council does need to move forward with “due diligence,” but voted against the resolution. Other council members felt the options need to be fleshed out before conducting a survey.

The council has made progress towards funding the project. It voted to dissolve the city’s roughly $2.4 million permanent fund to help pay for construction earlier this month, but that could change.

City Manager Katie Koester previously told the council the fund had only grown about 1 percent over the past year. That assessment was incorrect.

“The value of the fund has increased by about 22 percent,” Koester said.

The fund is broken down into two parts. A portion is invested in bonds, which had only grown about 1 percent. The growth came from about $1.2 million that was invested in the stock market, a return just below $370,000.

Finance Director Elizabeth Walton told the council in a memo that if market conditions remain favorable, the city could continue to benefit from its investments. Council member Shelly Erickson asked that the council reconsider its decision to dissolve the fund at its next meeting.

But, Smith cautioned against a kneejerk reaction.

“It’s just important to understand that we haven’t realized a return. We’ve realized an increase in value,” Smith explained. “Until we cash out that asset, we haven’t made or lost anything. That’s subject to change at any time.”

Money from dissolving fund was also set to pay off a long-term loan on the Homer Public Library building. It was thought the move would save about $1 million in interest, but Koester told the council it would actually be about half of that amount.

Council member David Lewis still found value in paying off the loan. He asked for a new ordinance to pay off the bond and retain the remaining balance in the fund. The council will consider both Lewis and Erickson’s options on July 24.