Assembly discusses changes to capital priority process

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is considering changes to its community engagement process for state capital project funding priorities.

In the past, the borough has made a formal wish list of projects for state funding in time for the January-April legislative session. A number of borough-wide projects are typically included, as are capital project priorities for the service areas and unincorporated communities. The incorporated cities of the borough typically submit their own capital funding priority books.

However, as the state’s fiscal crisis has continued over the past two years, there has been less money available for disbursement to municipalities and communities, and more projects have gone unfunded. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, like other municipalities, has had to turn to other sources of revenue for its priority projects, as in the case of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system replacement in the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building. That project was listed at the top of the borough’s capital priority list for the last two years but this year, the borough administration gave up on state funds and sent a bond question to the ballot, asking voters if the borough should issue bonds for the approximately $5 million project. Voters will decide on that proposition in the upcoming Oct. 3 election.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly discussed how to proceed with the capital priority listings during a Legislative Committee meeting before the Sept. 5 regular meeting. There’s some confusion for the unincorporated communities, where borough employees go out and host public meetings to determine capital project priorities and to get community consensus about the uses for funds through the Community Revenue Sharing Program, now called the Community Assistance Program, said Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship at the Legislative Committee meeting.

“What we have now is a state that doesn’t have money for capital projects but they do have municipal revenue sharing,” she said. “…If we did community meetings now, it would strictly be to ask for funding for capital projects that doesn’t exist right now.”

The clerk’s office and Community and Fiscal Projects Manager Brenda Ahlberg typically host meetings in the 27 unincorporated communities throughout the fall, or conduct them by Skype or ask for meeting minutes from the most remote communities. This year, the only certain set of funds for those communities will be about $15,000 each through the Community Assistance Program, Ahlberg said.

“I have been keeping our communities engaged … so we’re in a little bit of a flux with the program, and to date, all I have received are thank yous from our communities that I’m continuing to update them,” she said.

There are other benefits to holding the community meetings, though, Ahlberg said. She cited an example of two residents of Hope calling her separately about the same project, though they had not talked to each other about it. The community meetings in the fall could be a chance for the different community members to talk about what their broad goals are and how to accomplish it, regardless of whether there is state funding or not, she said.

“Why not have meetings in the fall that are more holistic, that bring everyone together … to have a good, old-fashioned, ‘Let’s talk about what we need to do and how we’re going to get there’?” she said. “Don’t call it legislative priorities anymore. What can we do for our residents and how do we go about looking at it from the bigger picture?”

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the assembly should probably still come up with one or two borough-wide projects to submit to the Legislature before the next session in case funding comes available in the future or the Legislature decides to issue a bond package.

“At some point, there will be a bond issue and your project ought to be part of the record for that system,” he said.

The assembly didn’t make any formal decisions about the capital priority listing process, but Ahlberg and Blankenship said at the meeting they would come up with a schedule for meetings in the fall.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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