Wish list sent to Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is asking state lawmakers, who began the legislative session yesterday, to appropriate nearly $4 million for four major borough capital projects that top this year's state-funding wish list.

The assembly adopted the 2008 State Funding Priorities packet at the Jan. 8 meeting and has forwarded it to the Legislature, hoping to see much of its contents funded in the state's FY 2009 budget.

The need to boost security led to a request for $1,625,000 for a three-phased program that would install security cameras at power plants, schools and other borough buildings.

The borough says it needs another $1 million for a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system to provide servers and workstations at four communications centers and link them to the Alaska Land Mobile Radio system for data sharing, coordination and backup.

Keeping bears out of borough solid waste transfer sites is going to require new fencing, and the borough has asked lawmakers for $614,575 to fund that work.

To continue its effort to rid the borough of junk vehicles, the borough is seeking $735,000 for new equipment and facilities.

The 121-page wish-list document also lists the borough's top legislative issues: fixing education funding, setting up a workable municipal revenue sharing program, and appropriating money to cover the huge debt owed to state retirement systems.

At a minimum, the Legislature should implement the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Education Funding Task Force, the borough said.

A sustainable revenue sharing program is needed to provide reliable streams of state funding to cover continuing costs of improving public services, while allowing the municipality to ease the burden on property taxpayers. Gov. Sarah Palin had included $2.94 million in municipal assistance and revenue sharing in her budget and has continued a community assistance program that shares oil revenues with municipalities and unincorporated villages, many of them within the borough.

The borough wants lawmakers to adopt legislation to cover 85 percent of the past service liability now owed to the state's Public Employees Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System, collectively known as PERS/TRS.

Since 2001, the borough's contributions to PERS have nearly tripled. Despite some much-appreciated legislative help out of Juneau in FY 2008, the impact of the PERS debt has served to increase the borough budget almost $4 million since 2001.

The situation is no better in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, where the FY 2008 retirement system contribution amounted to 54 percent of salary costs.

Establishing a past service account system that would fund 85 percent of that liability would stabilize the borough's PERS/TRS annual payments at approximately 18 percent of payroll now and in the future, borough officials have said.

Palin's $4.4 billion FY 2009 budget includes a $408 million direct deposit from the general fund for PERS and TRS. She has also proposed a $450 million deposit from the general fund in the current budget for the TRS, which would reduce what is owed there and produce a savings of some $607 million over the next 25 years, according to the governor's press office.

Elsewhere in the wish list document, the borough lends its support to state efforts toward: a North Slope natural gas pipeline and a gas spur line to Cook Inlet; Cook Inlet oil and gas exploration and enhanced oil recovery efforts; development of the Chuitna Coal Mine; research and safety funding for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council; and development of a statewide energy policy.

It also includes funding requests for some 33 maintenance projects at area schools, including teacher housing at Tyonek, roof repairs, window replacements, locker replacements, upgrades to playfields, and more.

Various roads maintenance projects also need state funding, including $2 million to pave numerous borough maintained gravel road approaches to the Sterling Highway, Seward Highway and Spur Highway intersections; $450,000 to complete the Woods Drive upgrade and paving project; $350,000 to pave Moat Way, Excalibur, and Camelot Drive; and $400,000 to build turn lanes at the Solid Waste Transfer Site.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.

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