Wrangell’s Public Safety building, September 2020.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Projected costs for infrastructure projects in Wrangell are stacking up. On Thursday, the borough assembly considered proposals for essential repairs to the Public Safety building, which houses the Police and Fire Departments, the DMV office and the courthouse. 

Any way it’s cut, the project will cost millions of dollars. Renovating the existing Public Safety building is projected to cost just over $9 million dollars. Building a new building, either on the current site, or on the Wrangell Hospital lot, would cost around $25 million. 

Wrangell’s City Manager Lisa Von Bargen explained that the only financially feasible option is to renovate the current Public Safety building… but it’s a temporary fix. The city will have to borrow the money through bonds, which will put a strain on city finances.

Von Bargen laid out the kinds of costs coming down the pipeline in the near future, in addition to the Public Safety building renovation: “You start adding the fee increases we know we’re going to have to have in our enterprise funds to be able to accommodate the debt service on a new water plant, the work that we have to do to install a new [trash] baler, the ever increasing cost of garbage, the electric rates, because of SEAPA is going to be increasing the wholesale power rate, and our infrastructure needs here in Wrangell for the electric department…” 

Altogether, with this Public Safety renovation assessment, and all the other infrastructure needs of Wrangell, that means the city may have to ask more of its taxpayers.

Von Bargen continued, saying when you add up all those costs, “We’re having a very serious conversation about what the cost of living in Wrangell is. And we’re having that conversation in what is — I would consider — to be some of the most stressful economic times in the community since the mill closure. So these are very serious, gut wrenching, soul searching conversations that have to be had. And I just want the public to know that we recognize this and and these are going to be some tough, serious conversations moving forward.”

For now, the assembly approved funds for the most urgent repair to the Public Safety building — a shoring wall project to support a rotting part of the building’s exterior wall. Future discussions about infrastructure projects in Wrangell are not yet on the schedule.

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