Alaska's Republican-led Legislature and administration have promised to keep a lid on government spending while looking for ways to boost revenues through resource development.
But the prospect of a tight state budget in fiscal year 2004, beginning July 1, didn't prevent the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly from compiling an inch-thick list of projects it hopes state lawmakers will agree are worthy of funding.
At its meeting last Tuesday, the assembly approved the draft of its 2003 legislative priorities. A resolution formally adopting those priorities is to be voted on at the Jan. 7 borough assembly meeting. It then will be forwarded to the borough's legislative contingent.
Those priorities cover capital improvements for the borough, its service areas and unincorporated communities, as well list the requests from borough cities.
"Our top priority is funding for solid waste," assembly President Pete Sprague said Friday.
The importance with which borough residents viewed the need to upgrade the borough's waste disposal capabilities was amply demonstrated in October when voters approved a bond package for more than $12 million. The borough now is requesting $8 million from the state with which to reduce the future bond debt or reduce the need to sell bonds, Sprague said.
Also prominent among borough priorities are maintenance projects for borough schools and facilities. The total requested for those jobs is $28 million, money that would cover such things as improving water quality, eliminating asbestos, meeting provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, sprinkler system upgrades and the like. The largest portion of that $28 million, however, is $15 million requested to replace the aged and inadequate Seward Middle School.
The borough also asks the Legislature to appropriate sufficient funds to pay for improvements to state-maintained roads within the borough. It names the numerous projects currently on the State Transportation Improvement Program or STIP list.
The draft also lists policy priorities the borough hopes the Legislature will address.
Listed as the borough's key legislative policy priorities are development of a natural gas pipeline to bring North Slope natural gas to the peninsula, regulatory reform to ease impediments in the natural resources permitting process, and tax and royalty incentives to promote exploration of otherwise uneconomical oil and gas fields.
The borough also has asked the state to help it build and improve docks and roads on the west side of Cook Inlet to help open that area to further development.
While encouraging further expansion of the oil and gas industry in the inlet region, the borough has asked the state to continue funding for environmental protection programs.
It also has asked the state to expedite completion of the land selection process. The process of acquiring patents for borough entitlement lands is slow, often taking years. The borough asks that sufficient resources be appropriated to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to speed up the patent process so it could be accomplished in less than two years.
Finally, the borough is asking the state to amend a section of Title 29 that provides exemptions from property taxes on the first $10,000 of property value on a primary residence. The borough wants that exemption increased to $50,000.
Among the projects listed for various borough service areas are a $170,000 ambulance for the village of Nikolaevsk requested by the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area, $400,000 requested by the Bear Creek Fire Service Area for construction of access roads to the Camelot and Questa Woods subdivisions that would dramatically reduce the time it takes emergency vehicles to reach them, and $238,000 for wild-land fire apparatus requested by Central Emer-gency Services.
The Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board has requested more than $3.5 million for various projects, including $1.49 million for a picture archival and communications system and $740,903 for a digital radiographic system and room remodel.
Kachemak Emergency Service Area wants $450,000 in state assistance to build a fire station at McNeil Canyon, another $190,000 for a fast-attack fire engine and $150,000 for an ambulance.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area has asked for funds for a host of borough road maintenance projects.
The Nikiski Fire Service Area Board wants $150,000 for an ambulance; the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area needs $475,000 to build the Nikiski Community Center; and South Peninsula Hospital Service Area has requested $275,000 for an emergency water system and another $225,000 for an emergency helicopter landing area.
The borough list also includes nearly 60 pages of projects for which funding is sought by various unincorporated communities and organizations.
Sprague said the assembly recognizes the constraints the state Legislature may be under in trying to bridge a significant gap between revenues and expenses. Neverthe-less, he said, the borough has needs of its own and must turn to the state for help.
Sprague also said he hopes next year's legislative requests can be submitted in a smaller format.
"We realized that we need to streamline it and we have begun to do so," he said.
Next year, he said, he wants communities, advisory committees, chambers of commerce and citizens groups to meet with borough officials beginning in the late summer and early fall to come to agreement on the top priorities.
"The reality is the smaller the list, the more the individual legislators will be able to focus on them and address those needs," Sprague said.
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