Ahead of GO bond vote, Dillingham residents question city funding

Mar 19, 2019

If voters and the state approve the $4 million general obligations bond, the city said it will use existing revenue sources to pay for it. The bond would fund a project to fix downtown roads and an extension to the Lake Road Fire Hall. 

Ron Bowers speaks during a community meeting on the GO bond. Dillingham residents will go to the polls to vote in a special election March 26.
Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

At the special election on March 26, Dillingham residents can choose to vote for both the streets project and the fire hall extension, just one, or neither. Rehabilitating the roads is projected to cost $3.4 million. The fire hall is projected at $650,000. 

On March 16, the Dillingham City Council held their first public meeting to answer questions about the bond. 

“What I want to make sure that everybody understands is, we can’t and won’t do anything until the election. But this is like when you go buy a loan and get preauthorization. They only do bonding like this maybe once a year. So we had to get on board to get everything pre-approved, then wait for the vote and see what happens with the vote and then go from there,” said City Manager Tod Larson.

The city does not expect to raise taxes because of the bond. Instead, they will use existing revenues and will consider tapping into discretionary funding. If the voters and the state approve the bond, the city would pay it back on a 20-year loan. The annual payment for both projects would be about $265,000 a year. Separately, the streets project would cost about $223,000 annually, and the fire hall would cost $42,000. 

Much of the input on Saturday revolved around the state's uncertain fiscal situation, particularly in light of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget. Robert Heyano said that it was difficult to predict the city’s finances 20 years from now; the governor’s budget only brought that uncertainty closer to home.  

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in Juneau," Heyano said. "But I think we all – there’s going to be less money available, and less services. It’s probably not going to go away 100 percent like the governor wants, but I think there’s going to be some reductions. This council doesn’t anticipate any new taxes, but that doesn’t mean the next council is going to have the same opinion.”

Other residents echoed those concerns about how the city would make the annual payments. Ron Bowers said that he had originally supported the bond. But that was before the governor released his proposal in February.

The highlighted streets would be repaired if the bond is approved by Dillingham voters and the state.
Credit City of Dillingham

“Everybody in this town, including babies and children, everybody wants better roads," Bowers said. "It’s terrible downtown, we all want it fixed. And most of us want to see the expansion here at the fire hall. But it’s unfair to ask voters to make that decision right now. We don’t know what’s going to happen in Juneau. Nobody knows. But it does look – there’s going to be some serious cuts. Can we delay this vote til the fall?”

The answer is no – at least not if the city wants to save money by sharing certain costs with the state. The Alaska Department of Transportation has a downtown repaving project scheduled for this summer.

The $3.4 million bond would fund repairs of downtown roads not covered in the state's road rehabilitation project.
Credit City of Dillingham

“We’re really dovetailed in with the state’s project, primarily because they’re all streets," Larson said. "We’ll gain a lot of efficiencies by putting them out at the same time as the state does because of the size of the projects. And they will likely pay the [mobilization and demobilization of the crews and equiptment].”

Larson said that based on previous construction projects, if the city did not work with the state it could cost them up to $1 million more.

The streets project would reconstruct the downtown loop of D Street, Seward Street, Main Street and Central Ave. It would also replace some sidewalks, curbs and gutters. The fire hall renovation would expand the facilities and increase accessibility to city fire trucks and equipment.

The special election takes place March 26 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee voting is currently underway; residents can cast their votes at City Hall in Dillingham from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through March 21.

To learn more about the bond, visit the City of Dillingham's GO bond information page

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.