Homer residents will have a chance to vote on increasing the city sales tax in June as a way to fund a new $7.5 million police station.
The Homer City Council passed the ballot proposition Monday. It asks voters to approve a year-around .35-percent sales tax increase.
Under the proposal, most of the tax would sunset once the bond for the station is paid off, but .05 percent would remain on the books to fund ongoing maintenance costs for the building.
City Council members disagreed whether to hold a special election on the proposition or wait until the regular election in October. Council member Donna Aderhold worried that an election next month may not give the city enough time to educate the public.
“It's such a fast turnaround,” she said. “Yes, we have been talking about it ad nauseam – the community has not necessarily. But I still think that has the potential to be a big surprise for community members, and we need to take that into account.”
Aderhold also worried that a summer election may lead to poor voter turnout.
But council member Tom Stroozas said he isn’t as concerned about voter turnout. He thought it was more important to hold the vote prior to October when the Kenai Peninsula Borough will also likely be asking voters to increase taxes.
“This is our opportunity to be first out of the gate with a sales tax increase,” he said. “It’s a small enough amount to be first out of the gate with a .35 [percent]. I think [it] is very passable. Waiting until October, it's going to be a mix of all other kinds [of proposals].”
Council member Heath Smith also argued that if the ballot passed, there could be meaningful progress made toward a new station in the coming months.
“Rather than sit here in park for another four months or five or whatever it may be, that we have the approval of the voters to go and do and make it happen,” he said. “So I would like to see some progress in those months. Yes, I'm tired of sitting still. I'm ready to move.”
This is the second time the city has asked voters to pay for a new police station. In 2016, Homer residents shot down a $12 million bond proposal that would have repurposed the HERC.
The council then went back to the drawing board. In 2017, the council settled on a $6 million option, but shifted course after realizing the building did not include features Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said were necessary.
If approved by voters, the 12,800-square-foot building will be built on the corner of Heath Street and Grubstake Avenue. The council plans to pay for about a third of the $7.5 million project up front, and it’s asking residents to pay for the remaining $5 million.
The special election on the proposition will be held on June 26.