Public testimony spurs postponed vote on Fairbanks Capital Improvement Projects

 Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly postponed vote on Capital Improvement Program due to overwhelming amount of public testimony. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)
Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly postponed vote on Capital Improvement Program due to overwhelming amount of public testimony. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF) (KTVF)
Published: Jan. 17, 2020 at 2:58 PM AKST
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Fairbanks North Star Borough residents filled the assembly chambers to give feedback on projects proposed for the Capital Improvement Program. The borough assembly was scheduled to vote on an ordinance deciding which projects should be included in the Capital Improvement Program.

While some people had concerns about the Capital Improvement Program in general, others wanted to speak to specific projects.

One resident spoke to his concerns about taxes and the money the borough is proposing to use for these projects. John Howe, a resident of Fox, said that it should be up to the residents to come up with the funding.

“I’m suggesting that as an interim, you take these and cut all of these values down to $1, $10, maybe $1,000 each, and then you see how these get crowd funded. Put it out to the people, let people donate money, and then you can add to that with tax money if you really have to. You can do it on a matching basis, since you have some of this stolen money and you already have the program to steal money. So I don’t expect you to all at once, cut away from this blood system you’re used to, but it needs to change,” said Howe.

Former assembly member Lance Roberts said he believed that some of the projects were not necessary.

“I guess in my mind I thought it was just going to be about maintenance, I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought you were just going to plan the maintenance, take the mayor’s spreadsheet and make it more public. I didn’t realize there was a big thought process to building a whole lot of new stuff,” said Roberts. “You’ve been working on [this] for years, we’ve been trying to convince people we have a maintenance problem, now we’re telling them, ‘oh no, we can do all of this maintenance problem and we can build all these new buildings'. It is just not going to wash, and I think you know that. You’re the fiduciaries, and you need to present much better reasoning to the public.”

Others think it is important to maintain these services for quality of life and the economy.

“As we have a community that is beginning to grow in population, maintaining and sustaining our infrastructure -- particularly things like quality of life, swimming pools, skating rinks, trails -- it’s essential that we maintain and grow those,” said Jim Dodson, president of Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation.

When it came to specific projects, many residents spoke in favor of saving the S.S. Nenana, a historic sternwheeler riverboat.

“When you stand next to that boat, it’s majestic; it needs to be fixed no matter how long it takes,” said Meredith Coats, a Fairbanks resident.

In the Capital Improvement Program, there are a few different suggestions for how to preserve, or restore the S.S. Nenana. One of the proposals is to remove and restore pieces, instead of the whole boat.

“I cannot imagine chopping it up, putting it into little pieces for displays, like the Lavelle wheelhouse. It’s nice to see it there, but I think that’s probably one of the most important historical artifacts we have --certainly in the interior of Alaska, and maybe all of Alaska,” said resident Mike Musick.

One project that would include multiple services is the North Star Athletics Complex, which would possibly include swimming pools, indoor field sports, indoor playgrounds, and a skate park. “It’s an important and compelling quality of life project for Fairbanks and future generations of Fairbanksans and I respectfully ask for your leadership in helping the community take the next step in feasibility planning,” said Fairbanks resident Mike Powers.

“It is over twenty years old, it’s poorly designed, it’s becoming unsafe, it definitely falls into the deferred maintenance category, instead of the fluff category, as some people might say,” said Kelli Boyle.

Many residents also spoke in favor of the Carlson Center Ice Rink replacement with portable ice rink. This project is expected to cost $1,500,000.

“The possibility of losing the Carlson Center ice would potentially devastate our organization; we utilize ice at every rink in our community,” said Candy Mattingly with the Fairbanks Women’s Hockey Association.

She spoke about the importance of maintaining ice rinks in the community.

“Please consider investing in the Carlson Center and maintaining the ice. Fairbanks is a great place to live but with our extreme weather conditions we cannot afford to lose this valuable community asset,” said Mattingly.

Due to a large number of residents that signed up to testify, the assembly decided to postpone the vote until Thursday, January 23. Public testimony lasted for about three hours.

Copyright 2020 KTVF. All rights reserved.

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