Assembly should speak up about needed building repairs


October 12, 2022 | View PDF

Wrangell voters last week defeated a proposed $8.5 million bond issue that would have paid for needed repairs at the almost 40-year-old Public Safety Building, which suffers from water damage, rot and other problems.

Despite general grumpiness around town over property taxes, borough spending, the economy and inflation, the defeat was not overwhelming. The proposition lost by just 65 votes out of 583 ballots cast, 44.4% to 55.6%.

That is not an insurmountable margin to overcome — and it is margin that the borough assembly needs to confront. Regardless of voter reluctance to commit to paying the repair bill, the building is in sad shape and still needs repairs.

The assembly should think of the ballot defeat as a temporary setback in the quest to repair the building and should think hard about trying again.

Wrangell needs a fire hall, police station, state court offices, jail and everything else housed at the multi-purpose facility. The state pays rent on the court offices and jail, which helps cover a large portion of the operating expense of the building and can go a long way to repaying the cost of repairs. In short, Wrangell has a good deal depositing up rent checks from the state, but further deterioration of the building could jeopardize that income.

In putting together another try at voter approval, the borough needs to present residents with more information on the particulars of the repairs and the costs, and just how the work would proceed: Would police offices, the fire hall, court and jail be moved into temporary quarters — and at what expense — or could the tenants remain mostly in place as contractors do their job in phases, working around the occupants?

Answers the complaints from voters who asked: If the building is in such tough shape, how come nothing was done earlier?

But more importantly, when the assembly tries again, the members should work a lot harder at explaining the need to voters. Though the assembly voted unanimously to seek voter approval for the repair bonds, members left it to borough staff to provide explanations at the only public meeting held on the ballot issue.

And while borough staff can only provide information on ballot propositions — not advocate for voter approval — assembly members can and should get out, speak up and advocate for the proposal.

If assembly members, all of whom won the public’s trust and support in their election to the governing body, explained why the repairs are needed, why the bond issue is the best answer for paying the cost, and why they support the ballot proposition, maybe the question could pick up the 65 votes it needs and pass next time.

— Wrangell Sentinel


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