Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday moved ahead with a program that could offer paving for some roads in the community, if neighborhoods agree to pay the cost of that paving.
The borough has proposed offering the paving while the private company Secon still has an asphalt plant on the island and would pay for the work up front, with home owners repaying that cost. Early cost estimates put the price tag around $2000-5000 for a home, depending on street frontage. And it would only be offered on certain streets that are cul de sacs or used mostly by residents of that neighborhood.

Adam Swanson supported the program for his Jenny Lane property. “I’ve talked to 40 percent of my street and they’re for it,” Swanson said. “Every body just, there’s a big question mark at how much it will be and that’s kind of the. Well two things how much it will be and how much do you have to pay at what rate and what time.”

Input this month was mixed on the program. Lake Street resident Carli Byrer wanted the borough to drop the idea. She noted that neighborhood residents were not the only drivers on her street and it wasn’t fair to make only that neighborhood pay. “I don’t want to be charged for something that people on Sandy Beach weren’t charged for, people on Wrangell Avenue weren’t charged for,” Byrer said. “If we’re going to charge people then we need to go ahead reassess everybody for all the paved streets that’s what I feel.”

The paving would be offered under a program already in borough code called a Local Improvement District. Residents can petition the borough to extend a utility or other service as long as they pay the costs. Borough officials can only remember the Local Improvement District being used once before, by the residents of Rambler Street seeking chip sealing.

Like local residents testifying, assembly members had questions about the terms of paying back the paving money. Public works director Karl Hagerman explained that those terms are decided much later in the process. And he said there are other questions that can’t be answered this early in the process.

“You wanna know how many residents are going to be involved or are interested in this because that translates to a bottom line that the borough will upfront the money to get this paved and then accept reimbursement,” Hagerman said. “And we don’t know the answer to that yet either. There’s so many steps to this like I said that it takes a lot of patience to make it through this and at this point today, the resolution that’s in front of the assembly, the only thing that it does is allows the public works to send letters and copies of petitions to prospective neighborhoods. And then the onus of the process to move forward shifts to the property owners.”

If property owners return a signed petition, then the borough holds a public hearing and details costs for the new asphalt. Then ballots would go out in the neighborhood and 60 percent of the home owners would have to approve of the paving for it to continue. The borough assembly also has to approve three readings of an ordinance to keep the project rolling along and could vote to end it during that process.
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Cind Lagoudakis, attending the meeting by phone, said members of the public she’s spoken to are universally opposed to the idea. She was also concerned about the issue of fairness. “I’m concered that we’re burdening some residents where we did not others and that isn’t necessarily fair,” Lagoudakis said. “At this point I’m leaning toward not voting for it. That 60 percent really causes me discomfort. I would like to see that more people are on board if a street decided to sign onto this.”

Assembly member Nancy Strand said she was torn about the decision. “But I like the idea of making the offer for people to decide,” she said. “And if we have more than one opportunity to turn it down even if people gathered signatures and we could override their positive choice, I feel better about that having an opportunity later to get more feedback.”

Borough manager Steve Geisbrecht noted that much of the paving of borough streets in recent years has been funded using a federal payment to the borough under the Secure Rural Schools Act, the same program that provides school money for communities near National Forest land. Borough officials are anticipating those payments will not continue past this year and Geisbrecht said that contributed to the timing of the offering.

“So for those people asking the question asking why this why now, some of it has to do with the plant is here and it will go away in the spring unless they have work here to do,” Geisbrecht said. “But it also has to do with this may be the last cheapest opportunity for people to get streets paved. We’re not going to be doing a lot of paving going forward. Unless we go back to trying to issue bonds across the whole community or there’s a new source of funds that’s outlined by the assembly.”

Assembly members discussed the possibility of increasing the vote percentage needed in a neighborhood to go ahead with paving. That would require three readings of an ordinance to change borough code but the assembly sounded interested in raising the bar to 80 percent.

The vote was 6-0 to approve the resolution. That means public works will be sending out petitions and information to neighborhoods. Streets that have been identified as candidates are Galveston, Lake Valkyrie, Odin and Queen, Rambler, Tango, Unimak, Vesta and Pearl F along with Jenny and Philbin lanes.