The Northwest Arctic Borough’s Village Improvement Fund (VIF) could start distributing money for local projects this year.
A group of representatives from each of the 11 borough communities met this week in Kotzebue to define criteria for the projects. Hiram Walker is the capital projects manager for the VIF.
“It can’t be directed toward one entity or one person. It has to be something that’s sustainable and is shared with all the community,” Walker said.
Walker says the fund is currently at $12 million. It was set up last year as part of a ten-year agreement between the borough and Teck Resources, which runs Red Dog Mine. Teck is contributing $4 million to $8 million to the Village Improvement Fund each year out of the zinc mine’s profits.
Walker says the VIF will provide not only a reliable funding source to communities where outside money is scarce, but also local autonomy.
“We’ll be able to hire local,” Walker said. “We’ll be able to buy material from whom we want to buy it from. It’s a government thing, but it doesn’t have very many strings attached.”
So far, Walker says Deering is the farthest along in putting together a proposal, specifically for potable piped drinking water. Selawik and Ambler are also hoping to receive funds in the first round. Selawik VIF commissioner Tanya Ballett says her community is hoping to get funds to either complete a new store, construct a new landfill or improve water and sewer.
Ambler Mayor and VIF commissioner Morgan Johnson says his community’s priorities include water and sewer improvements, addressing high energy costs, and a lack of adequate housing. But deciding what to focus on will be a group effort.
“People will have to come in, sit down and work things out as a community: everybody get in one mind and say, hey, what’s the most important thing that a town needs right now, and go for it,” Johnson said.
Whatever they end up choosing, Johnson says the VIF program is a big help.
“It’s a pretty smart move for Teck to help the borough in any ways to help alleviate struggling communities that don’t have funding of any source,” Johnson said.
Teck will contribute $8 million to the VIF in 2018, based on their 2017 profits. Once the commission has nailed down specific criteria, it will start to look at community project proposals.