Mike Welch has been in the North Pole mayor’s seat since 2018. He’s aiming to keep the spot, running for another three-year term as mayor of the city and its 2,740 residents.
His goal is to keep up the work he started three years ago when he was first elected to the seat but not if Thomas McGhee can help it. McGhee, a North Pole city councilman, is challenging the incumbent Welch for the job.
Welch moved to North Pole in 1999 and served as a council member for several terms, first being elected to the council in 2005 and then 2013. He’s served as the city’s deputy mayor and was the city of North Pole’s first audit and finance chairman.
Ultimately, Welch said he wants to make North Pole a better place to live.
In an interview with KTVF’s Alex Bengel, Welch said, “I’d like to see a better-staffed police department as well as a more modern fire department and they’re doing the best they can, but they’re going to need a little bit of help here along the way because our city’s going to grow, and they have to be able to grow with it.”
Some of his top goals include running the city efficiently when it comes to finances, tackling heating costs and working with residents to ensure city services meet the demands of a growing North Pole population.
The term he is seeking is a three-year seat.
1. What are your top priorities during your time in office?
To continue to operate the city in the most cost effective and efficient manner, with the reality check that government is not the panacea for all economic difficulties or diseases. We as a community can get through this pandemic, but only with mutual cooperation and levelheaded decisions made as partners.
2. Like Fairbanks, housing in North Pole is an issue in regards to the arrival of airmen and F-35s at Eielson Air Force Base. What is the impact on North Pole and what might the city do to encourage affordable but well-constructed housing in the city limits? Will the new Military Facility Zone Loan program have an impact within the city of North Pole Itself?
The opportunity to build housing, retail and community amenities, due to the rapid expansion at Eielson AFB (and very soon Fort Wainwright) will require a mayor at the helm, as well as a staff that will be engaged in both the preparation and execution of a planned urban development. I’ve been involved since May with the Governor’s Economic Development Team, and am encouraged that the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation MFZ Loan program will now make available up to four times the required capital so local contractors and investors can meet demand.
The USAF Alaska Commanding General has identified the need for 400 domiciles to house their airmen and families by the end of 2023. There is currently a waiting list for 120 families, so in the works is a phased approach to design a community of 104 townhomes that North Pole’s citizens can be proud to call home. The building code and inspection process of the City already requires well-constructed housing. It’s important to act now, before this opportunity is lost for our City!
3. Does North Pole need a solid waste plan? Why or why not?
The FNSB solid waste plans that are in place now seem to be adequate for the current population. Interesting enough, many new residents to the City inquire soon after buying or renting a home as to how their garbage is to be collected. Many citizens are not used to the idea of hauling their garbage to a transfer station. Perhaps in the future the City could work with residents to consider contracting with a private garbage collection firm.
4. Should the city contemplate any new approaches to air quality issues in North Pole?
In November 2020, I heard about a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded demonstration project to design and build a small-scale gasification plant for generating low-cost heat and power. Being familiar with district heating systems, I recognized the opportunity for this plant to provide low-cost heat for the city of North Pole. This will replace more than 250,000 gallons of heating oil (and their emissions) used to heat our municipal buildings and our water system of approximately 50 miles of pipeline from October to June. Finally, recognizing that the high-cost of housing is an impediment to Eielson AFB’s expansion plans, I realized an opportunity to provide district heat for a nearby planned subdivision as well. I have successfully persuaded the team to site this demonstration plant within the city of North Pole. This plant is designed to operate within the EPA designated serious non-attainment area. The cost savings is at least half of the cost of oil. It also generates electricity for less than 12 cents per kWh.
Associated with this plant is a 20-acre greenhouse to be co-located with this demonstration plant, thus reducing CO2 emissions to net zero! To date, DOE has invested $3 million in the design through the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The construction application is due in May 2022, and we are well on our way toward securing the 20% private sector investment required by DOE. If selected for construction, then DOE/NETL will cover the remaining 80% of the cost. No funding from the city of North Pole or from the FNSB is required. The estimated value of this asset is $114 million dollars, and an added benefit is locally grown fresh produce and up to 100 jobs.
5. What are the most important challenges facing the city of North Pole in the next five years?
Recruiting and developing civil servants to work for our city to fulfill the needs of an upward bound population. These challenges would be in all areas: police, fire, EMS, public works, Building Department and administration. As this process matures, it would be wise to explore, and with citizen’s approval introduce a city manager, as outlined in our city charter.
6. What makes you qualified for this position?
I have been a neighbor and citizen of the city of North Pole for 22 years, and have spent half of that as a dedicated official, appointed in 2003, elected to City Council in 2005 and 2013, and as your mayor since 2018. I have found it necessary to rely on my education in accounting, finance and organizational behavior over the past three years as mayor. It takes proven experience to prevail with a cool head during these challenging times. When it became vital to execute an emergency declaration for Covid-19, it was important for me to qualify and quantify the impact to our city. The result was more than a $4 million CARES Act grant to benefit our families and businesses; this was nearly $2,000 per capita. Our clean audit this July proved that we have been in compliance with the disbursement of those funds. My service has been committed to being a full time mayor to meet the pressing needs of this emerging community. The office of the mayor is my business, my only business!