Petersburg’s new police station is in line for a major funding boost. Alaska’s Senate Finance committee put nearly four million dollars for the project in its draft capital budget. The appropriation has several hurdles before it’s approved, but its big news for project advocates. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
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“You know I think we made a good presentation on how the public safety building in Petersburg is dilapidated,” said Juneau Democrat Dennis Egan, who represents Petersburg in the Senate. He made a case for the police station money in a meeting with Senate Finance Co-Chair Kevin Meyer and other committee members this week. The committee’s draft spending plan listed a total of three-point-nine million dollars for the project. That included a re-appropriation of one-point-four million dollars that was left over from the town’s fire hall project as well as a new grant of two-and-a-half million more.

Egan was optimistic about the funding’s chances but he cautioned that even if the line item makes it through the committee and the full senate, it still has a ways to go.

“You gotta remember that it goes to the house and its subject to a lot of change. Finance is meeting right now with a lot of amendments. I hope the 2.5 million stays in there but, as Kevin Meyer has said on some other thing, it’s a crapshoot, right?”

Egan was referring to a comment Meyer made last month about senate bill 21. Meyer supports that legisltaion which would cut taxes for oil companies. However, according to a widely-quoted Juneau Empire article last month, Meyer called it ‘kind of a crapshoot’ as far as whether the bill would lead to new oil development.

While Egan opposes that bill, he said Meyer had probably been his biggest advocate for the Petersburg facility funding.

Advocates from Petersburg also spoke to the committee. During public testimony on Monday, Police Chief Jim Agner and Public Safety Board member Sally Dwyer described the condition of the half-century old building, which the borough considers a liability.

“It’s a good bet its one of the very worst facilities in the nation. It’s currently in imminent danger of collapse. Because of that it has significant concerns, things that break all the time. Heating doesn’t work. Just this morning the sewer once again backed up and…raw sewage flowed through the community jail and pooled up in front of my office inside the building. That is not an uncommon occurrence,” Agner said. Dwyer added,”There are as much as eight-inch gaps on the second level between the beams and the ceilings. The floors, we refer to as the funhouse. You walk down the hallway and your tipping from left to right. The doors don’t close fully because the floor has shifted so badly.”

Agner and Dwyer asked for seven million dollars which was the borough’s original request to Governor Sean Parnell this winter. Parnell did not end up including any of the money for the building in his spending proposal. In the face of less oil production revenue, Parnell and legislative leaders have called for spending cutbacks along with a tax cut for oil companies.

So, Petersburg borough officials were not optimistic about their chances for substantial funding this year. Borough Manager Steve Giesbrect says it was a huge surprise that the committee not only reauthorized the remaining fire hall money for the police station but added two and a half million more.

“What we were hearing when we went to Juneau and what we were hearing since that time was ‘be really happy if we get the re-appropriation and its highly unlikely to get anything more'”

If the money is eventually approved by the full legislature and the governor, it would boost Petersburg’s project funding from a couple hundred thousand dollars to over four million.

The architect’s initial design for a two story, 13 thousand square-foot police station was estimated to cost up to nine million dollars. After learning about that higher-than-expected price tag last month, the borough assembly directed Giesbrect to look for less expensive options.

He’s been doing that and the proposed funding would certainly help.

“It opens up some options for us that we were, frankly, not sure we could afford as far as potentially building a smaller building, less construction, yet still meeting the needs of the state jail contract and having a public safety building that is, you know, built to the standards that its required to be built to. So, four million is a whole lot better than kind of one-point-four, one-point-five. Hopefully we can come up with a plan that the assembly will like that gets us a new building,” he said.

Giesbrect thinks it would be possible to build a police station for just four million. On the other hand, he emphasizes that such a facility still has to meet higher structural and design standards than a more typical building.

Other Petersburg items in the Finance Committee budget include more than 2.1 million dollars to renovate the elementary school’s exterior walls, a borough transition grant of 600,000 dollars and over 6,000,000 dollars in federal pass-through funding. Three million of that is for additional taxi-way and apron work at the airport and 3.3 million will go towards improvements on Haugen Drive and the Adjacent bike path.

The full senate is likely to vote on the committee’s spending plan this week. Then it goes over to the house. As it stands, the 2 billion dollar budget would spend about 190 million more than the governor proposed and he will have the final say on the spending plan.