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Fearing State Cuts, Unalaska's Council Calls For Conservative Spending On Capital Projects

Laura Kraegel

The threat of state budget cuts could delay Unalaska's plans to renovate playgrounds, dredge the port, or complete other long-term projects.

Last week, the City Council balked at the local capital budget proposed for fiscal year 2020, which would spend $23.5 million on about 30 projects.

Councilor Shari Coleman said the city needs to be "much more conservative."

"This isn't going to be sustainable," she said. "There's absolutely no way I'm going to approve anything to this magnitude."

Coleman cited the state budget proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, which would end the practice of splitting lucrative fisheries taxes between the state and coastal communities.

Under that plan, Unalaska stands to lose about 27 percentof its total projected revenue, or about $8.3-million.

While city officials aren't hearing a lot of legislative support for the idea, most of the council agreed that Unalaska should be very cautious with local funds — just in case that revenue disappears.  

"I'd like to back off for a year or so and see what happens at the state level," said Councilor Roger Rowland. "Because I really am in favor of balancing the state budget, even if it's on the back of the community."

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson also supported a measured approach to spending, though he said some projects can't wait.

He highlighted maintenance items, including one that would clean and extend the powerhouse's cooling line.

"We need to address that powerhouse — those things that can't slip and we have to do them, just to protect our assets," said Robinson. "It's going to be tough."

City Manager Thomas E. Thomas said city officials will prioritize their top capital projects as the local and state budgets come together over the next three months.

Under the current proposal, Unalaska's big-ticket items include $5 million in library renovations, a $2.3 million flywheel system to store electrical energy, and $2.2 million deposit on a new live fire training facility.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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