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Borough asks Juneau for help funding projects

Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media

Two wish lists of projects are heading with assembly members to Juneau later this month. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a docket of priority projects that it would like help from the state to fund, from relocating the school district administration from the Borough Adminisration Building to the old Soldotna Prep building, to replacing 12 borough bridges.

Rep. Ben Carpenter sits on the House Finance Committee. He said legislators ask for priority lists from their home districts so if the state has the money, it can help.

“Every borough is going to have its own priority list," Carpenter said. "And so the discussion at the state level will be, ‘Which projects rise to the level of priority to do?’ And I imagine that each one of the districts, with the amount of money that’s being thrown around here, each one of the districts is going to have at least one project that becomes a priority for the state. That’s just a guess, at this point.”

Carpenter said it’s possible that money for projects is made available through the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed late last year – the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

“There’s many different pots of money, if you will," Carpenter said. "And if we’re talking about money coming from the infrastructure package, then it will be federal money, and then it will be likely to have a state or local match requirement to spend that money.”

Infrastructure projects make up one list the borough is sending in, for nearly $40.5 million in funding. That includes $12.5 million for broadband expansion.

The other list is capital projects, compiled more recently and part of a five-year borough plan.

The borough hasn’t sent a list of capital projects to the state in several years amid state budget woes, said Tyson Cox, who chairs the borough assembly's finance committee.

“It’s not that we have any more money in our [state] budgets," he said. "It’s that we’re able to use some of these federal grants for things state money would have went for, which may open up money for other projects.”

Even though the borough hasn’t been sending formal lists of projects, Carpenter still said he’s aware of the borough’s priorities from over the years through conversations with the borough mayor. He said a previous example of a project the state helped fund is the Cooper Landing Bypass project, now underway.

Cox said the borough administration compiled the list of priorities, which includes upgrades and renovations in service areas across the borough.

There was some frustration about that process at the assembly finance committee meeting Tuesday. Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman said the assembly members only saw the list for the first time that day. 

“It seems like we’re down to the 11th hour here working on a group project," Bjorkman said. "And members of the group are trying to do their part on the group project, and then we have other members of the group."

John Hedges, with the borough’s purchasing and contracting department, said they did what they could to get the list out in time.

“We’re kind of resurrecting this process after not providing it to the state for a number of years due to the lack of a capital budget in the first place," he said. "So this year, we realized that there might be an opportunity, we didn’t want to miss out on that opportunity, and so we scrambled to put this together in the way that we did."

Cox said it’s important to note that the wishlists are just that. The state will be balancing the requests from borough all over the state before it makes decisions.

Assembly members Bjorkman, Brent Johnson, Cindy Ecklund and Bill Elam are headed to Juneau later this month for an Alaska Municipal League conference and will visit with legislators then.

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