Parnell vows new focus on deferred maintenance

Budget will include $100 million in 'hammer ready' economic boosts

Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009

Gov. Sean Parnell says Alaska needs to maintain what it's got, but has instead been building new stuff while buildings, harbors, roads and ferries deteriorate.

"I think it only makes sense to take care of the state's assets, to fix what we have," Parnell said Thursday in Anchorage.

Parnell said his proposed budget, to be made public next month, will include for the first time an allocation of $100 million specifically for "hammer ready" maintenance projects of physical property that have been put off over the years. Parnell said work on the "deferred maintenance" projects can begin quickly, helping boost construction employment.

Parnell said he expects to spend $100 million a year for the next five years on the deferred maintenance backlog. Parnell has another year left in his term as governor, but is running for a full four-year term.

Among the items Parnell specifically mentioned the maintenance money might be spent on were state ferries, though the only specific breakdown of the $100 million was 37 percent to the University of Alaska system, where half the buildings are 30 or more years old.

"The funding is necessary to preserve the state's significant investment in university infrastructure," he said.

University of Alaska Chancellor Fran Ulmer praised the focus on maintenance, saying that was also one of the University's goals but that it sometimes was difficult to persuade legislators of its importance compared to bringing home new buildings.

Ulmer, like Parnell, is a former legislator. Ulmer represented Juneau in the state House of Representatives.

"Legislators want to introduce capital budgets that add facilities to their districts," she said. "It's something we all wanted to do while we were in the Legislature."

University of Alaska spokeswoman Kate Ripley said the emphasis on maintenance has for several years been a focus of the Board of Trustees, and will likely be well received throughout the state.

"It's great to have a governor who understands how important it is to take care of what you've got," she said.

Ulmer appeared with Parnell at a press conference in Anchorage, before Parnell presented his proposal to the Associated General Contractors of Alaska Conference.

AGC Executive Director John MacKinnon said Parnell's focus on maintenance would pay big dividends for the state and be able to begin more quickly than large new projects.

"Personally I think he hit a home run with it," he said.

Some of the projects that Parnell discussed, such as new heating systems or windows for aging buildings, will save on operating costs in the future, MacKinnon said, while basic maintenance will improve the life of the state's assets.

"They just get worse and cost more the longer you let it go," MacKinnon said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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