Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly

Gary Black/News-Miner

Members of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly discuss education funding and ranked choice voting Thursday, April 23, 2021, before a nearly-empty audience at the Juanita Helms Administration Center, 907 Terminal St.

Grants for Explore Fairbanks worth $700,000, a new $300,000 snow groomer for Birch Hill, $1 million worth of equipment for the Carlson Center and $2.2 million in premium pay for essential workers are some of the ways local leaders want to spend $18.8 in federal Covid-19 relief money.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly is voting later this month on an ordinance to allocate the money, which is flowing to the borough courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act. More than $9 million has already been deposited into a borough account. The rest is expected to arrive next year.

The money can be used to respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts; to provide premium pay to eligible essential workers; to provide government services threatened by lost tax revenue; and on water, sewer or broadband infrastructure improvements.

The assembly drafted the list of 17 projects, ranging in cost from $250,000 for a project setting up the Noel Wien Public Library to host public meetings to $4 million for upgrades at Pioneer Park.

None are Covid-19-related public health projects unless you count Priority No. 7, which involves spending $1 million to replace the failing septic system for residents of the Ballaine Lake Service Area.

The list is based on projects presented by Borough Mayor Bryce Ward. Assembly leaders held multiple meetings and heard at least two rounds of public testimony about what the priorities ought to be.

“This list represents a joint effort,” Assemblywoman Marna Sanford said in a text message. “We had an excellent work session and vetted ideas from almost every assembly member.”

A million dollars is proposed to be spent each on cleanup of deteriorated government properties and on an oil-to-gas conversion program. There’s an allocation of $1.2 million that would go toward unnamed projects associated with the Capital Improvement Program.

Testifiers at an Aug. 23 special finance committee meeting asked for ski grooming equipment, a bridge, a pedestrian path across the Steese Expressway, grants for Explore Fairbanks, money for aging buildings at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a study of borough-wide broadband.

The broadband study is Priory No. 15 for $500,000. There’s a $2 million allocation for “solid waste disposal enterprise projects.” The list also includes $1 million for borough cybersecurity improvements and upgrading the online payment system.

Under the ordinance, the borough would keep $1.7 million of the money and hire a new public employee or contractor to oversee the allocations.

Leah Berman Williams is chairwoman of the assembly finance committee and said she likes the list enough to vote for it.

“I’m excited about some of the projects,” she wrote in a text message. “It will be interesting to see if there are any significant revisions after public hearing and after the assembly’s had a couple of weeks to think about it.”

The bulk of the Carlson Center money is aimed at replacing aging industrial equipment in the kitchen and at buying indoor play equipment for children, according to the assemblywoman.

“There may be other amendments being prepared for money to the hospital,” she wrote.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an error for when the vote on the allocation is set to take place. 

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 907-459-7545, at abohman@newsminer.com or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.