Road work, PERS money on list

Borough ponders what it will ask state for this year

Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Borough officials have begun assembling the annual wish list of capital projects in need of funding and will present that list to state lawmakers likely within the first few weeks of the 25th Legislature, which opens Jan. 16.

Assembly President Ron Long said the assembly hopes to have the priorities list adopted at the Dec. 5 meeting. An assembly delegation will head to Juneau probably around the second or third week of the session to formally present the borough’s requests to peninsula state lawmakers.

The draft, made available last week, lists not only proposed projects, but also capital and legislative priorities.

Among the capital priorities listed are security camera systems to be installed in schools districtwide, a computer-aided dispatch system, development of borough territory on Cook Inlet’s west side, and security fencing for borough solid waste transfer sites.

Legislative priorities included fixing the unfair area cost differential factor used in determining how much state funding school districts get. According to the borough’s analysis, the factor is too small to account for the costs associated with the district’s many rural schools, and that fact has led to an underfunding of borough schools to the tune of more than $100 million over the past 10 years.

Also on the legislative priority list is restoring some form of municipal revenue sharing program. The borough wants a sustainable program that would provide reliable state funding to offset the costs of unfunded mandates, such as the $150,000 senior property tax exemption that cost the borough $4.4 million in lost tax revenues in fiscal year 2007.

Another issue on the legislative priority list concerns payments to the Public Employee Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System (PERS/TRS). The borough seeks state funding to fully offset the compounded increases in the programs.

According to the borough, the fiscal year 2008 PERS contribution equals a 14.58 percent increase over fiscal year 2007 for a total rate of 37.39 percent of salary, while the TRS fiscal year 2008 contribution equals a 116.68 percent increase over fiscal year 2007 for a total rate of 54 percent of salary.

Translated to dollars, those percentages will mean mandated employer contribution increases to PERS/TRS of $2.3 million from the borough to a total of $5.5 million, and a whopping $11.8 million from the school district for a total of $21.9 million. Meeting those responsibilities without state aid could impact basic local government services, the borough says.

Under legislative priorities, the borough also offers its support for a North Slope natural gas pipeline with a spur line to Cook Inlet, and urges the Legislature to support exploration for and development of untapped oil and gas reserves in Cook Inlet.

In addition, the borough supports development of the proposed Chiutna Coal Mine, which holds the promise of new industrial opportunities on the peninsula including coal gasification, coal-to-liquids and coal-based power generation.

Finally, the borough seeks legislative support for continuing environmental protection efforts being conducted by the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council.

Several road projects proposed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area are included in the draft wish list, including paving numerous borough-maintained gravel road approaches to the Sterling, Seward and Spur highway intersections, work estimated to cost about $2 million.

Other roads on the list needing upgrade and paving include:

· Midway Drive (Sterling), $275,000

· Woods Drive (Kalifornsky Beach Road/Ciechanski), $450,000

· Bastein Drive (Nikiski), $300,000

· Moat Way, Excalibur, Camelot Drive (Seward), $275,000

· Solid Waste Transfer Sites (boroughwide), $250,000

· Community College Drive (Soldotna), $250,000

Schools capital requests include $18.86 million worth of projects across the borough. Some of the most expensive include teacher housing in Nanwalek and Tyonek, structural upgrades and re-roofing at Seward High School and Soldotna High School, and repair of tracks at schools boroughwide.

The wish list also includes funding requests for numerous borough service area projects and projects proposed for the borough’s unincorporated communities, as well as separate wish lists compiled by the borough’s six incorporated cities.

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