Money for ailing buildings required in borough budget

Jan 25, 2019

Presiding officer, Matt Cooper, left, discusses an amendment from Assemby member Aaron Lojewski, center with him and Assembly member Christopher Quist, right.

Grappling with the borough’s building repair backlog, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly last night passed a requirement that the mayor put   maintenance money in the budget each year. Borough staff estimates the schools, recreation centers, libraries and offices owned by the borough have millions of dollars-worth of repairs pending.

Assembly members Aaron Lojewski and Angela Major introduced an ordinance earlier in January to put a small percentage of the value of buildings into the Facilities Maintenance Reserve, or FMR every year. Last night, the Assembly put it through a rigorous course of amendments.

Lojewski used an industry standard that assumes building they will need between two and four percent for repairs.

“They’re saying the two percent is more appropriate for estimated annual maintenance needs for a warehouse, you know, a simple building. And you are probably closer to four percent for something like a hospital, or an airport, a more complex building.”

The group wanted to calculate a formula for building up the FMR without suddenly pulling money from other areas. The proposed law would have started with a base contribution of about $7,000,000, then added point seven percent of that each year, until the FMR fills up with 14 percent of the tax revenue.

“One of my favorite parts of this is the escalation clause.”

Assembly member Christopher Quist said the strength of the ordinance was the racheting up of the amount of money each year to bolster the Facilities Maintenance Reserve.

Building maintenance has been a problem since voters enacted a tax cap in 1987. Assemblies wanting to keep their budgets lean, left money for maintenance out. Bigger projects like building renovations, tended to go to bond, where voters generally approved them.

Last October, a new animal shelter building, a badly worn-out school roof at Ben Eielson Jr./Sr. High School and other projects were rejected by voters.

But Borough mayor Bryce Ward is not a fan of the escalating contribution, because the revenue cap prevents the borough from raising more money than the previous year. More maintenance dollars --- fewer operations dollars.

“That’s guaranteeing that we are at the cap, and that you continually put downward pressure on operations. Which means that in order to maintain that increase over each year, you would be essentially reducing services in your different departments.”

Assembly member Marna Sanford said the Assembly always has the option of adding or deleting maintenance money from any budget.

After two hours of discussion, the escalation language was removed… and the remaining ordinance was passed unanimously.