Kenai officials are shifting focus to the legislature after receiving no mention in Gov. Sean Parnell’s $12.4 billion fiscal year 2014 budget proposal.
None of the city’s capital project priorities where included in proposal, but Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said the governor’s budget focused more on statewide issues than it did on smaller projects this year and he hoped the legislature would focus on local projects during the next session.
“This is a pretty lean budget that the governor put out,” Koch said.
The $2.7 billion capital projects proposal will go through wrangling during the next legislative session before it is approved and Koch said he intends to fly down during the session to advocate for the city’s interests.
Some Kenai-area projects were included in the governor’s capital projects budget including $1.045 million in deferred maintenance to the Wildwood Correctional Center; $1 million to the Department of Natural Resources for Lower Kenai River park facility and access improvements and $572,000 in deferred maintenance for Parks and Recreation in the Kenai region.
Currently topping the city’s funding priorities list are a $2.5 million request for a light/heavy equipment storage facility to be located near the city’s new shop; $1 million to upgrade city streets from gravel to pavement; $1.2 million for upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant, a new fire engine and improvements to the city’s rec center.
While those priorities are not likely to change drastically, Koch said there could be some “tweaking” before he resubmits the list to the legislature sometime in the next week.
While it is not yet clear how much money in capital projects the governor will allow to be added to his list by the legislature, Koch said he would not be disappointed with an additional $3 million in projects for the city.
“At some point there’s some horse trading, there’s some negotiations,” he said. “At some point here soon we’ll hear through some channels what the governor’s thoughts are as to how large the capital budget is able to grow before he takes out a veto pen.”
While he is hopeful for some additional funds, Koch pointed to a portion of the proposed budget that could impact how quickly the city’s wastewater treatment plant upgrades are completed.
Under the proposed funding for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Municipal Water, Sewerage and Solid Waste Matching Grants just over $14 million was appropriated fro the program.
That’s down from a usual appropriation of around $20 million, Koch said.
Funding for eight projects, including water and sewer improvements in Juneau, Sitka, Kodiak and Anchorage were included in the DEC’s list of projects likely to receive funding while Kenai’s project is 13th on the list of prioritized projects through the program, according to DEC data.
Koch said it was frustrating to score high enough on the DEC’s list of priorities to potentially receive funding, only to have funding for the program cut.
There are some encouraging signs that the city may yet see some added state funding, Koch said, including that it’s an election year for many legislators and capital projects tend to be larger in those years.
“That’s certainly not a disappointing capital budget from the standpoint of the state as a whole,” Koch said. “There have been a couple of pretty big capital budgets in the last couple of years of which the money hasn’t all been spent. There’s a lot of state money that is rolling around in the construction sector and the economy is still benefitting. From that standpoint I think this budget continues to fuel the local economies and we’ll just have to work with our legislative contingent to see what we’re able to have some success to se that our local priorities are recognized.”
From a statewide perspective the budget was an encouraging sign that government was trying to live within its means, Koch said.
“I guess it would be somewhat disingenuous, if I said I am not disappointed at all. I would have liked to see some of our priorities make it into the governor’s budget. But, am I upset by it? No. That’s how the process works, sometimes you get things in there and sometimes you don’t. We will sort of reload and go in front of the legislative folks and try to get some of our priorities put in the budget that way.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.