Homer residents headed to polls Tuesday in a special election to decide whether the city should build a new $7.5 million police station. Just over 600 voters cast their ballots at the polls throughout the day. Including absentee ballots, voter turnout was at about 16 percent.
Roughly 64 percent of ballots cast on Tuesday, 386 votes, were cast in favor of raising the city’s sale tax .35 percent to pay for $5 million of the project. Just over a third, 218 votes, opposed raising the sales tax to pay for a new station.
As of Tuesday morning, the city clerk’s office received 169 absentee ballots with five electronic ballots outstanding.
Those votes will be counted by the canvass board Friday and more ballots could arrive via the mail before the results are certified. Any votes mailed in will need to be postmarked on Tuesday in order to be counted.
Still, election results are unlikely to shift short of almost every absentee ballot being cast against the tax proposition.
This comes after roughly four years of work towards a new station on the Homer City Council and multiple task forces. Another bond proposition for a more expensive police station also failed at the ballot box in 2016.
As voters left the polls Tuesday afternoon, several who voted both for and against a new police station expressed concern about the overall cost and the tax increase that would accompany the new building.
Homer resident Toby Wheeler, who voted in favor of a new station, said he’s fine with the building’s cost, but he said it’s the tax increase that gave him some pause.
“I think they worked pretty hard on getting the price down. So, I feel pretty confident about that,” Wheeler explained. “It’s just the fact the we have pretty high sales tax and our mill rate is fairly high too. I have some concerns about that.”
The city estimates that the $5 million price tag it’s asking voters to pay for would be paid off before the end 20-year term of the bond. Some of the tax increase, .05 percent, would pay for increased maintenance costs and would remain on the books after the rest of the tax sunsets.
Despite his concern about higher taxes, Wheeler said the need for a new police station pushed him to vote yes. The very same concern motivated others to vote no. Loreta Miller was one of those voters.
“Alaska is an expensive place to live. I understand that the facility that they’re in right now is not great, but at the same time, $7 million is a lot of money,” she said. “I’m hoping that they can go back to the drawing board and find a cheaper way or somewhere else to get the money from instead of us.”
Still, others such as David Lefton said they were fine with the city’s proposal.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we’ve had a police station for this long that doesn’t meet the needs of our population,” he said. “We pay taxes for a reason, so that we can have new things and public services.”
After the votes are tallied Friday, the city council is due to certify the results on July 2.