When Bryce Ward ran for Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor three years ago, one of his promises was to make progress on a long-term plan for addressing building maintenance on aging borough facilities.
Ward made good on that promise. In June 2020, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a new Capital Improvement Program largely crafted by Ward laying out more than $100 million worth of public construction projects over 10 years.
Now the 35-year-old husband and father of two, who lives in North Pole and owns rental properties and a small contracting business, is seeking a second term at the local elections on Tuesday.
A bout with cancer has not deterred Ward’s ambition to address problems and improve quality of life in the borough.
“Serving the Fairbanks North Star Borough as mayor has been the hardest thing I have ever done,” Ward wrote in an emailed answer to questions. “I strive to do my best every day and look for ways to make things better for the average person who interacts with their local government. I believe I can continue to make processes better and continue to improve the overall reputation of the borough.”
He has two opponents, Chris Ludtke, a libertarian and a blaster at Fort Knox Gold Mine, and Roberts Shields, a member of the Green Party who canvassed last year for U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross. On. Sept. 21, Mary Caro Simmons, a registered nonpartisan, beautician and school bus driver, filed as a last-minute write-in candidate.
Ward, who was born in Fairbanks and is a Lathrop High School graduate, started in politics by serving on the North Pole City Council for one year before he was elected the city’s mayor in 2012 by a 10 percent margin in a four-way race. In 2015, he won reelection uncontested.
In 2018, Ward won the office of borough mayor by a landslide with more votes than his three opponents combined.
Ward, who has an associates degree in business from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, considers himself a frugal budget crafter. He wrote that he “kept borough finances in check, millions under the tax cap and relatively flat considering a considerable contribution to capital (10 million a year plus) and while reeling from millions in lost funding for school debt payments from the state of Alaska.
“I will continue to be diligent in the budget planning processes,” he wrote.
Areawide local property taxes collected in 2018 amounted to about $108 million. That rose to $122 million during Ward’s first year in office, according to historic budget numbers.
Spending on borough employee salaries and benefits jumped from $38.9 million during Ward’s first year in office to $47.2 million the next year, historic budget numbers show.
The budget for the mayor’s office shows that half of the six employees are now earning salaries in the six figures.
In 2018, the year that Ward first ran for borough mayor, the arewide property tax mill rate was 12.850 mills. The current mill rate is 13.799 mills.
Candidate Q & A
Name two of the borough’s most pressing issues and how you would address them.
The borough’s most pressing issues currently are the high cost of energy and housing. I have been working with our local gas utility to grow conversions and expand services in the borough specifically targeting new developments. We also recently passed an energy credit program for new six star energy rated houses in the FNSB. Housing will continue to play an important part in the sustainability and affordability of our communities’ future. I am committed to working with the Housing Task Force and other community partners to focus on improving all qualities of housing in our community.
What new services are needed at the borough and how would you pay for it?
I am focused on improving the existing services we have through improvements to our infrastructure and policies. I think we have a lot to offer with the current facilities that we already own and our innovative staff. These improvements can be enhanced with better equipment, an example is the modular ice rink for the Carlson Center.
What cuts are needed at the borough and what should happen with the money saved?
Recycling in the community continues to be a very expensive endeavor. I am supportive of high impact recycling such as electronics, batteries, oils, chemicals, paints and plastics. I question the benefits of recycling paper when it has to travel so far to be processed and can be composted here. Savings could be used to offset tipping fees at the landfill.
Should the borough hire more code enforcement officers to deal with the backlog of land use complaints? Why or why not?
Currently the borough has one full time code enforcement officer for land use issues, this is problematic since we changed the code to allow for anyone to log a land use complaint. In order to process complaints quicker and have enough time to work with landowners another officer would be helpful. Code enforcement alone is not enough to address these problems.
The largest annual appropriation by the borough is for public education. Is the local contribution to education too low, too high or just right? Please explain.
Local contribution to education is good, we contributed 49 million dollars last year of local taxpayer funds to our local district. Approximately 30 million dollars of this ‘local contribution’ was deducted from what the state pays for public education. I think this is wrong and the state should fund the basic need for education.