State lawmakers are urged to fix education funding, establish a workable municipal revenue sharing program, and appropriate money to cover the huge debt owed to state retirement systems in the latest draft of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's legislative wish list.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is expected to adopt a final version at its Jan. 8 meeting and forward the document to the Legislature, which is due to convene Jan. 15.
At a minimum, the draft says, the Legislature should implement the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Education Funding Task Force that recently issued a report to the governor suggesting changes meant to improve public education in Alaska and provide school districts with more equitable and stable funding. Those recommendations have the support of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
The borough asserts that a sustainable revenue sharing program providing reliable streams of state funding would improve public services like roads and emergency response and ease the load on property taxpayers.
Borough Mayor John Williams said Tuesday that he appreciated the fact that Gov. Sarah Palin had included $2.94 million in municipal assistance and revenue sharing in her budget released Monday.
"That's a million more than last year, but still less than the $3.7 million in Gov. Murkowski's budget the year before," he said.
Williams also said he was pleased to see the governor continued a community assistance program that shares oil revenues with municipalities and unincorporated villages, many of them within the borough. Under the governor's proposal, $75 million would be set aside and split between municipalities and unincorporated communities and could be used for any public purpose.
The borough wants lawmakers to adopt legislation that would 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 boroughs contributions to PERS have nearly tripled. Without state assistance in FY 2008, the PERS rate would have increased almost 500 percent since 2001, the borough said.
Meanwhile, the borough school district's FY 2008 contribution equals 116.68 percent of its 2007 payment and amounts to 54 percent of FY 2008 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 said.
As it is, FY 2009 will require an employer contribution increase of $2.3 million from the borough, and an $11.8 million increase from the school district, according to the priorities draft.
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 will 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.
In its draft document, the borough lends its support to state efforts toward a North Slope natural gas pipeline and a gas spur line to Cook Inlet. It also supports a boost in 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.
The draft priorities list also names capital projects for which the borough needs funding. They include security fencing for solid waste transfer sites currently plagued by bears ($614,575); a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system for the four communications centers within the borough that could link them to the Alaska Land Mobile Radio system ($1 million); a districtwide security camera system for building security at schools ($1,625,000); and furthering the borough's junk vehicle removal effort with new equipment and facilities ($735,000).
Some 33 maintenance projects at area schools are also listed in the draft document, such as teacher housing at Tyonek, roof repairs, window replacements, locker replacements, upgrades to playfields, and more.
Borough road projects get the same kind of treatment. They include a request for $2 million to pave numerous borough maintained gravel road approaches to the Sterling Highway, Seward Highway and Spur Highway intersections.
Also on the list are requests for funding to complete the Woods Drive upgrade/pave project ($450,000), the Moat Way, Excalibur, Camelot Drive paving project ($350,000), and turn lanes at the Solid Waste Transfer Site ($400,000).
In addition, the draft lends the borough's continued support for several state road projects currently on the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) list, and suggests other projects that should be added to the STIP list.
The draft also includes a host of service area projects requesting funding:
* AP Fire and Emergency Service ambulance, $100,000;
* Bear Creek Fire Service Area, multi-use facility site preparation, $255,000
* Bear Creek Fire Service Area, multi-use facility construction, $2.1 million;
* Central Emergency Service Area, mobile firefighting water supply, $162,000;
* Central Emergency Service Area, static firefighting water supply, $750,000;
* Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area, expansion of Serenity House, $978,000;
* Kachemak Emergency Service Area, personal protection equipment, $50,000;
* Kachemak Emergency Service Area, Diamond Ridge Fire Station, $550,000;
* Nikiski Fire Service Area, two type A fire engines, $550,000;
* Nikiski Fire Service Area, Station No. 2 land purchase, building demolition and construction of new station, $4.5 million;
* Nikiski Senior Service Area, equipment purchase, $5,000;
* Nikiski Senior Service Area, maintenance shed project, $5,000;
* North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, building upgrade, $475,000;
* North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, synthetic ice installation, $350,000;
* Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area, hydrological studies, $180,000;
* Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area, bed load removal in rivers and streams, $200,000;
* South Peninsula Hospital Service Area, hospital rooftop helicopter landing area, $480,509;
* South Peninsula Hospital Service Area, cell phone repeater antenna, $10,225.
The draft priorities document also includes requests directly from cities and communities. A complete list is available through the borough.
A resolution will be the vehicle for adopting the final list. As such, the public will have a chance to comment at the Jan. 8 meeting.
Hal Spence can be reached at email@example.com.
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