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Just halfway through the 2012 fiscal year, the city of Kenai is already looking to the next budget cycle.

So far, Kenai is poised to do well in the state’s FY2013 capital budget.

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The governor’s budget, released last week, included nearly $5 million for city of Kenai roads and water systems.

“The city of Kenai did exceptionally well,” said Rick Koch, Kenai’s city manager.

Gov. Sean Parnell writes the first draft of the budget. Next, the state legislature will review Parnell’s version and make its own changes. The legislative session begins Jan. 17 and is scheduled to end April 17, but the budget process could — as it did last year — push the session into overtime. Once lawmakers hash out their version, the Governor will make vetos and sign off on the final edition.

Monday, Kenai officials talked to local legislators Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, about the capital projects the city want to see added to the budget this spring.

The city received funding for its first two priorities — roads and water — in the Governor’s budget.

“In no small measure that’s directly attributable to how Sen. Wagoner and Speaker Chenault have done their businesses,” Koch said at the Monday meeting. While Mike Chenault, speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, isn’t technically Kenai’s representative, Koch said Chenault still advocates for the entire Kenai Peninsula.

The $3 million for roads will go to a variety of yet-to-be-determined city streets. Another $1,935,164 was earned in a competitive application process for Kenai’s water system.

“This will extend water from Lawton Drive down to about Angler Drive,” Koch said.

Kenai’s third-place priority is a new city light/heavy equipment maintenance shop, Koch said at Monday’s meeting. That would cost about $3,500,000. Koch said the city is looking for an appropriation of about half that amount, and has money in its general fund for the other half.

Koch said the current shop isn’t adequate for the city’s needs, and in the long run, the city would save money by building new shop that isn’t on airport land.

“The city has to pay the airport for that lease space every year,” Koch said.

The fourth priority is a turf soccer and football field at Kenai Central High School. Koch said that would lengthen the playing season and enable the central Peninsula to host Alaska School Activities Association championship events. The cost of that field is estimated at $1.9 million, and the city is willing to put $250,000 toward the project.

Chenault and Wagoner said the city’s willingness to pitch in with funding for the field is appreciated, but he’d rather see the state pay for it, since it has paid for other communities to receive similar facilities.

“I really appreciate you guys stepping forward and making that offer,” Wagoner said.

Other priorities include phase two of the Kenai Industrial Park, improvements for the personal use fishery and upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Overall, Kenai is penciled in for a larger chunk of change than usual this year. Koch said the Governor’s preliminary budget typically focuses on statewide issues. 

“I look at other similar sized communities, and the differences are pretty stark,” Koch said.

Funding likely won’t be set in stone until the summer, but Koch said the city’s early success is a positive thing.

“It’s much easier to work to keep things in the budget than to work to put things in,” Koch said.

The Governor’s budget also includes $3 million for the Department of Transportation to work on the pedestrian pathway on Bridge Access and Kalifornsky Beach Road. 

Koch said the DOT appropriation might not pay for the entire path, but it would come closer to completing the Unity Trail that connects Kenai and Soldotna.

“If nothing else, it is the beginning of getting that completed, so we have that whole loop of a trail,” Koch said.

The preliminary capital budget also includes $10 million for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s health facility, slated to break ground in Old Town this spring.

Councilman Bob Molloy, one of three elected officials at the table Monday, said he was excited about that project.

Mary Jackson, one of Wagoner’s staff, agreed it is an important project for the Peninsula.

“We worked really hard on that,” she said. “Everyone did. It’s a great project.”

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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