Borough Assembly Finance Committee debates priority order of capital improvement projects

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly Finance Committee met on Tuesday night for a special meeting to discuss the Capital Improvement Program resolution. We spoke to Finance Committee Chair Leah Berman Williams about the amendments made

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly Finance Committee met on Tuesday night for a special meeting to discuss the Capital Improvement Program resolution. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

“People made some very thoughtful amendments, some were definitely unexpected, but it allowed the assembly to give direction to what we think should be in the capital work plan -- certainly over the next four years where we expect that there will not be a lot of movement in and out of the four year capital work plan even, with the new capital improvement plan process coming in to play in two years,” said Berman Williams.

The Capital Improvement Program or CIP will be the borough’s plan for which projects should be funded in which order. The mayor and his administration worked on the proposed order of projects -- but Tuesday night was the finance committee’s opportunity to make any changes they saw fit.

“We had a lot of very good discussions. Some changes were proposed that the majority of the assembly supported, and some changes were proposed that the majority of the assembly did not support. So we are proposing in this recommendation to the assembly some school projects that were not in the mayor’s original proposal. We took at least one major project out of consideration for the near future,” said Berman Williams.

The Carlson Center renovation was moved to the 'beyond years' part of the program.

“One of the big things I think the public should understand is the total dollar amount for all of these projects is very large, but the proposal we are working with is fiscally constrained. We are not spending more money in a given year than we think is prudent, and that we have to spend,” said Berman Williams.

She explained that the big projects are split into different sections from scope to construction. “The mayor worked very hard in his original proposal to the assembly, and the finance committee worked very hard last night as we were making changes to the resolution to stay within the constraints of the money we have to work with,” said Berman Williams.

She says the amendments made on Tuesday night were based on concerns individual assembly members had on project placement -- “Whether it was that they wanted to see a project funded sooner, or whether it was they wanted to take a project that was scheduled for funding and push it later or push it beyond because of how they felt that project interlaced with other borough priorities."

One amendment Williams proposed was in regards to the S.S. Nenana. “One of my concerns on that was construction was scheduled to be funded in FY22 -- so a full year and a half from now. My concern was if we did not have construction dollars available as soon as possible, the vessel might undergo decay that could have been stopped if we started construction sooner,” said Berman Williams.

Berman Williams' proposed amendment moved the funding for construction on the S.S. Nenana project from FY 22 to FY 21. The assembly agreed and passed the amendment.

She said that towards the end of the meeting there were concerns brought up about the large cost associated with the North Star Athletics Complex project. “They see $107 million dollars and think 'okay if we do anything on this project we’re going to be going out to bonds tomorrow to come up with $107 million dollars'. There was some concern that if we spent any money on that project then the path to bonds would be immediate, and that was something that a number of assembly members had concerns about,” said Berman Williams.

She says that is not the case, as the initial funds are on the scoping of the project. “If this proposal becomes part of the borough budget, we are spending money on a scoping activity to get more details on what the different pieces of this massive project would be,” said Berman Williams.

Berman Williams says they would then take those details and try to plan a phased approach to the large project.

On March 26, there will be public comment at the borough assembly meeting on the Capital Improvement Program before the assembly votes on the resolution.

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