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FNSB administrative center closed by stink

The Juanita Helms Administrative Center was closed by maintenance problems on Wednesday.

A sewage leak and a fire-alarm malfunction closed the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s administration building Wednesday. That included the Treasury Desk where many borough residents come to pay their property taxes, which are due on Friday. So the borough Assembly will hold an emergency meeting tonight to consider extending the tax deadline.

There were two distinct and very obvious problems at once.

“It, it was, it was, uh, one of the weirdest days I've been at the borough in the time I've been there. I'll tell you that right now,” Williams says.

Chief of Staff Jim Williams says Wednesday morning, the recently-maintenanced fire alarms went off, so all the employees went through their fire-drill protocols. Again and again.

“Our procedure is to have people go out and do the evacuation team until we figure out what's going on, and we had him go off about a half a dozen times that even during the event when I was trying to get people out of the building, the fire alarms went off.”

Williams says staff members determined an incorrect part was installed in the alarm system, so between trips to the parking lot on Terminal Street, they called to have it fixed.

“And we knew what the part was. It just took us a while to get the vendor over to get it corrected. And so, in the meantime, alarms are going off all the time and we had City Fire showing up. And you know, you wanna make sure that it's not really a fire. So every time we went through each of the protocols to respond to those alarms, which was kind of exhausting the staff also,” Williams said.

Then … something else happened.

“What appears to have happened is we had a sewage backup up on the second floor, that overflowed from the second floor restrooms and kind of the center of the building, and began spilling down into the clerk's office and into the first floor area. Raw sewage.”

Williams says immediately the Clerk’s office was unusable. Then the smell began to permeate the entire building.

“ It was so putrid in the building. It's like, I can't, I can't have employees working in this. This isn't gonna work. And I was out front for a while until about 2:00, 2:30, kind of redirecting taxpayers as they came up, and a lot of 'em turned their nose up. It's like, ‘what is that smell?’ they could smell outside the building. It was, it was awful.”

Those taxpayers? They are trying to come in to pay the first half of their annual property taxes in person at the Treasury desk. Even though there is a credit card option, or taxpayers can mail a check, many chose to bring their money in person. But the building was shut down.

“ This is significant for the tax deadline because the tax deadline is Friday the first. You gotta pay your first tax taxes by Friday the first, or else you're late,” Lojewski said.

Borough Assembly Presiding Officer Aaron Lojewski says he was asked by the administration to call an emergency meeting of the borough assembly to change the tax deadline.

“ An emergency special meeting, which can be done on as little as 24 hour notice. So we're gonna go ahead and meet in the school board chambers, just in case there's a problem with our chambers. We'll have a, a safe place to meet.”

Lojewski says the resolution would change the tax deadline from September 1st to September 5th.

“So that would mean that the taxes, if this proposal is passed, would be due on, uh, Tuesday, the first business day after the holiday weekend.”

The resolution would only change the deadline for the first tax payment. The second half of owed taxes are still due on November first.

Williams says that is not affected by the disastrous maintenance problems at the borough building Wednesday.

“ I, I don't even, I don't even know how to explain it, how weird it was. I just know that it was an awful day trying to get people to get work done and get taxpayers their service and get everybody to the building. So it was not easy. It was, it was painful.”

Williams is assessing the cleanup this morning, and may have employees come to work as normal if the ventilation is clearing out enough of the smell.

Williams says if the building needs to remain closed today, he will alert radio stations and the borough’s email and social media platforms.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.