Bonds on the ballot this fall
Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will weigh in on two boroughwide bonds this October, for upgrades to a dozen schools and for a new emergency services building in Soldotna.
The school district’s $65.5 million proposed bond would fund capital improvements at schools across the peninsula.
Those improvements are a slice from the district’s long-deferred maintenance to-do list, which it estimates contains a total $225 million of improvements. Superintendent Clayton Holland said a committee from the borough and school district worked together to narrow that list down to a list of 10.
He said it’s better to invest in the upgrades now than keep kicking the can down the road on what he said are crucial infrastructure improvements.
"This will save money in the future," Holland said. "And ultimately, will lead to savings for our taxpayers, and really a better environment for our students."
The most expensive items on the list include the reconstruction of Soldotna Elementary and the relocation of the district’s administrative office to the former Soldotna Prep building. Other items include updates to the entrance at Homer High School, which Holland said is currently framed with eroding wood, and safety improvements to pick-up and drop-off areas.
Schools all over the state are grappling with deferred maintenance issues, according to a study from the Institute for Social and Economic Research.
The largest source for K-12 capital improvements are bonds. But the study said those bonds have been even harder to sell to voters since 2015, when the state stopped reimbursing school bond debt. Between 2015 and 2021, just two districts approved school bond packages.
Voters on the Kenai Peninsula have a history of rejecting bonds on the ballot.
"I realize we’re in a place that traditionally hasn’t passed bonds, and this is a large one," Holland said. "But I’ve said this before — I’m an optimist, and we’ll believe to the very end that we can get this through this year."
The district’s bond is valued at $65.5 million, for an estimated tax increase of about $45 per $100,000 of property value — or $25 per $100,000, if the Alaska Legislature starts reimbursing bonds again ends the moratorium on bond debt reimbursement.
A smaller bond package is on the table to finance a the replacement of the Central Emergency Services Fire Station 1, in Soldotna.
CES provides fire services for communities outside of Kenai and Soldotna. Station 1 is its biggest.
But it’s not equipped to handle the growing volume of calls that come into the station, said Ryan Kapp, president of the CES board.
The station was built in 1956. Its latest addition was in the 1980s.
"And in ’83, when that addition was done, that department was handling about 300 calls a year," Kapp said. "And today that station handles 3,000 calls a year."
As is the case with the school maintenance projects, Kapp said these upgrades are overdue.
He said the new, planned building would have more space for equipment and for the staff who are at the station at all hours.
"It would also very importantly allow administration to be co-located with operations," Kapp said.
As it stands, CES administration works from the borough’s Office of Emergency Management building down the street.
The borough has already set aside money to purchase land for the project. The bond package would go toward the costs of planning and building the new station.
The CES project is estimated to cost $16.5 million. For a home valued at $100,000, that expense would increase property taxes by about $36, according to the borough.
A third borough ballot proposition will put a new apportionment plan to voters.
After every census, the borough takes another look at how it divides its borough assembly and school board districts. This election, voters will decide whether they want to keep the current plan that divides them into nine districts, or whether they want to increase that number to 11.
The municipal election is Oct. 4.
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