Kenai could consider legislative funding priorities

Kenai City Council members discussed Wednesday what projects they will request state money for in the coming year, or if they will make formal requests for state funds at all.

Alaska’s budget for fiscal year 2018 is unlikely to bring money to municipalities from a state Legislature that passed its current budget with an approximately $3.8 billion deficit. When members of the Kenai City Council met Wednesday for a work session on the city’s fiscal year 2018 capital funding priorities, they considered acknowledging this fact by not formally asking the state for any money at all.

Every state budget cycle, Kenai and other municipal governments submit to the state administration a list of projects they’d like funded from state grants and appropriations. Kenai’s Capital Improvement Program Priorities include five ranked high-priority projects and 25 other unranked projects — 16 requesting more than $100,000 and nine requesting less — which the city administration would like to fund partially with state contributions.

“Realistically we won’t receive money for any of these things,” Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said to the council as he presented his capital funding priority proposals Wednesday. “With that as the backstop in my thought process, we can do this like everybody else: go through a process, and there’s a snicker and a giggle when you submit the thing, because the sender and the receiver of this information know there’s very little chance — unless oil goes to $150 a barrel tomorrow — that there’s going to be any money for any of this.”

Of the five priority projects, the most expensive request, ranked fifth on the list, is $1 million for paving and improving Kenai’s approximately 20 miles of gravel roads, for which the city proposes to contribute $250,000.

The least is $125,000 (with a $25,000 city contribution) to install radio-frequency identification tags in library books, ranked fourth. Other priorities would repair boilers, upgrade the HVAC system and install bullet-proof windows in the Kenai Police Department building for $360,000 — that project was ranked first — replace the glass atrium in the Kenai Senior Center for $250,000, which was ranked second, and build a new fueling station for city vehicles at Kenai’s Heavy Equipment Maintenance Facility for $280,000, which was ranked third.

Unranked projects include a storm drain system for Kenai’s Inlet Woods subdivision, irrigation for four city soccer fields, adding an indoor turf field to the Kenai Multipurpose facility, replacing radios for emergency dispatchers, building outhouses at the Kenai Little League field, installing a lighting system in the trails near the Kenai Golf Course, and building a heated enclosure around a dump pit at the Kenai Waste Water Treatment Plant.

As an alternative to submitting this list to the state knowing that none of the city’s requests are likely to be filled, Koch presented the council with a resolution to instead “encourage the administration and the Legislature to work in a co-operative manner to develop a sustainable budget policy for the State of Alaska,” according to the draft resolution text.

“I think it’s a positive gesture to recognize right from the get-go that everybody knows there’s not any money there, and use it as an opportunity to encourage the Legislature and the administration to work together,” Koch said.

Koch said Kenai would still be able to make informal requests for legislative funding at any point during the upcoming session even if it doesn’t submit a list.

Whether Kenai submits a project list or not, Koch encouraged the council to seek at least one chunk of state money: renewal of a $1.75 million grant originally given by the Legislature in 2011 to fund the city’s collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize the bluff above the mouth of the Kenai River, which sits near Kenai’s Old Town commercial district and according to the Army Corps is eroding 3 feet per year.

The grant’s remaining $1.45 million will return to the state general fund if unspent by June 30, 2017. Kenai has already spent about $300,000 from the grant on its share of a project feasible study done in partnership with the Corps of Engineers.

According to the ordinance text, the project — which would line the base of the bluff with boulders — has been in progress since 1999, and the Army Corps of Engineers has thus far spent more than $2 million in related technical, cultural, socio-economic, environmental, and cost analysis studies.

The agreement between the Corps and Kenai splits the project cost so that 65 percent is covered by federal funding through the Corps and 35 percent comes from Kenai. The grant covers the city’s share of the project, which according to the ordinance text will move forward after the Corps completes a decision document, expected around August 2017.

Koch said that whether the grant is re-appropriated or not, the money will likely be spent on the same aspects of the bluff project and would still count toward Kenai’s 35 percent share of the cost.

If the grant isn’t re-appropriated, however, it will give the city a deadline for spending it before it relapses into the Alaska general fund.

Koch believes the best use of the money would be for acquiring the approximately 30 lots of bluff-front property Kenai will need to own in order to carry out the project. A less preferable alternative, he said, would be using it to stockpile the 3000-pound boulders that will eventually be planted along the bluff’s foot.

Koch discussed capital funding for Kenai in a meeting with Alaska Governor Bill Walker on Oct. 12. In a previous interview, Koch said this discussion was mostly about the bluff erosion grant. He recommended the Kenai council pass a request for the legislature to renew the bluff erosion grant whether or not they request funding for other capital projects.

“It’s important that we get that re-appropriated so we can maintain our local share of the project, which every couple years we have to recertify that we have the financial resources available,” Koch said.

Koch said he plans to submit the capital project request proposals to the council as ordinances to be discussed and voted on at the council’s Nov. 2 meeting.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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