Highlighting health, safety and maintenance projects, Kenai Peninsula Borough officials recently handed state lawmakers their annual legislative wish list, hoping borough necessities will win favor when compared to similar needs facing communities throughout Alaska.
Lobbying is likely to be as vigorous as legislators are parsimonious this session. A yawning fiscal gap recently predicted to generate an $865 million shortfall by June 30, the end of this fiscal year, and an even larger gap between income and expenses in fiscal year 2003, isn't a circumstance conducive to loose purse strings in Juneau.
In a cover letter accompanying the legislative priorities document, Borough Mayor Dale Bagley and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Tim Navarre urged support for schools and roads, rating them "of paramount concern."
Bagley said the borough typically asks for about $2 million for school capital improvements, but he doesn't expect there to be a lot of school capital money available this year. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District did well last year, however.
"We spent $2.5 million of our money and the $5 million state share, and that really helped knock out a chunk (of the capital projects)," he said.
Bagley is heading for Juneau this week. He said he'd have a better handle on the availability of funds after his trip. He said, however, that he expects that if money is funneled to schools it will be toward maintenance and increasing the amount of state funding per student.
The wish list also cited the peninsula's need for "continued responsible resource development."
Development hinges, Bagley and Navarre said, on rapidly transferring patents to the borough for entitlement lands selected under the state's land selection process, a process they called "excessively time consuming." The borough asked that sufficient resources be appropriated to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources so that the borough could receive final patents as quickly as possible. Bagley said DNR appears reluctant to turn over land, noting as an example, the fact that most of about 3,000 acres in the Cooper Landing area still have not been turned over to the borough, though it won patent approval in the mid-1990s.
"They plain and simple don't like to turn over land to the municipalities and boroughs around the state of Alaska," Bagley said. "It's not a priority for them, and they don't really push it." He said it is holding up development in the Cooper Landing area.
The borough also is supporting construction of a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Cook Inlet, a project seen as a boon to economic development on the peninsula and statewide.
Additionally, the borough wants state support to develop new roads and docks to improve access to the west side of Cook Inlet. The borough's West Side Recreational Use Development has identified the potential for recreational, natural resource and homestead development there.
Still another general request seeks continued funding for environmental safety programs identified by the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, including the need for nontank contingency plan reviews, shore-zone mapping, intertidal and subtidal habitat monitoring, pipeline integrity assessments and public outreach programs.
The borough also requested that state lawmakers continue study of the area cost differential that accounts for site differences within districts and funds appropriately; an inflation adjustment to the school foundation formula; full entitlement for pupil transportation costs; additional funding for expanding vocational training; increased funding to the Department of Transportation for year-round road maintenance of state-maintained roads in the borough; a restoration of Municipal Revenue Sharing and Safe Communities Funding to 1998 levels of $1.56 million and $1.16 million, respectively; and $300,000 annually for the next three to five years for the Quality Control and Marketing Program for Cook Inlet salmon.
The borough also voiced its support for adoption of a long-range revenue and spending plan that considers impacts on local services and taxes. Acting this year, the borough said, will "avoid rapid depletion" of the Constitutional Budget Reserve account. Local communities need sustained tax relief, which could be accomplished through "stable municipal revenue sharing or creation of a community dividend program." The borough also said local communities should continue to control sales tax and property tax programs, "the two key local revenues."
The borough called for action to increase civic involvement in community affairs, with focus on such things as promoting Alaska history in schools, healing racism and creating a state office for minority assistance; creation of a comprehensive energy plan and a comprehensive economic development plan for Alaska.
In the capital projects arena, the borough also is seeking funding for a host of school maintenance projects. Districtwide, those projects include raising water quality, eliminating asbestos and providing portable classrooms where needed, among other things. In all, the borough is seeking $2.75 million to accomplish projects in House District 7, $5.2 million for House District 8 and a combined $2.8 million for House Districts 9 and 36.
State highway road projects also made the borough's wish list in the form of a statement of endorsement and support. Among the projects named were a dozen separate construction jobs needed on the Sterling and Seward highways, as well as other needs cited by borough communities and cities. Among the top projects noted were reconstruction of approximately 16 miles of East End Road, rehabilitation of Kalifornsky Beach Road and a new bridge across the Kenai River.
The priorities list also includes various requests by service area boards (See related story, this page) advisory planning commissions, community chambers of commerce, senior citizens groups, parks advisory boards, Native groups, community councils and other civic organizations, as well as lists of the top priorities cited by municipalities in their own capital improvement wish-list resolutions.
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