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Grace Brooks is a member of the Hames Task Force, which is advocating for the three Hames ballot questions:
“One is a $6 million bond for the purchase and repairs,” she said. “One is to increase the property tax by a half mill, which would be $50 per $100,000 (of property value) a year. And then the other one is to change the city charter to allow for the increase, and it’s a decision the Assembly would look at each year.”
All three of those questions must pass in order for any to take effect. Brooks says the recreation center has about 1,100 members, but that its benefits extend to the whole community.
“When I called Wrangell, they have a community rec center, and I called them to ask about their community rec center and how it’s operated. The city runs it. They said they consider that a true asset. When the hospital is recruiting new staff, they always bring people over to see the community rec center so they can see it,” she said.
“We have a lot of dark, rainy days. So I think it could be a real community asset. Also right now it’s only $500,000. So for the city to be able to purchase 2 acres of downtown property with a functional gym, a pool, racquetball courts, and a fitness center for $500,000, it’s a deal.”
Hames proponents say the cost of not having a recreation center – not being able to attract residents who want one, for example – is greater than the cost of buying Hames.
Not everyone sees it that way, of course. One listener to Tuesday night’s on-air discussion asked why the city should buy “a building that’s sinking.” They said recreation opportunities abound in a community like Sitka. Hames Task Force member Tim Riley says he hasn’t seen any structural reports that indicate the building is sinking. Still, he understands the concern about buying an old building.
“It’s 22 years old,” Riley said. “It’s darn near three-quarters of an acre under a roof. And there’s going to be some deferred maintenance that we’re going to have to catch up with. We’re not of the opinion that that’s a mistake. We think it’s a good thing. We’ve got a lot of older buildings in this community.”
The ballot questions on Hames originated as $15 million dollars in bonds. The number was based on an engineer’s report that said buying and refurbishing Hames would cost $13 million dollars. The proposal Sitkans will vote on is for $6 million dollars in bonds.
“Some of the things that were in that study also included paving the parking lots, tiling the pool, and we don’t think that all those things are really necessary,” Brooks said. “Six million is going to get some of the basic things done. Some of the mechanical things, the roof, and also once we have ownership you can write grants. You can’t write grants if you don’t have ownership, and we have some excellent grant writers in this community.”
Brooks says the bond package includes operational costs for 20 years.
The ballot questions are labeled as Propositions 6, 7 and 8 on the municipal ballot.
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