Assembly passes borough budget

After a making few amendments at its Tuesday meeting, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed the fiscal year 2015 budget.

Funding debates focused on three areas: education, non-departmental organizations and the assembly budget.

In the draft budget, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre proposed the borough contribute $43.5 million to schools. The KPB School District requested an additional $1.5 million. The mayor’s proposed amendments at the Tuesday meeting called for an increase of $500,000 to the school district. 

According to a memo, because of the closure of the Kenai River to king salmon and the impact of the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire, sales tax revenues are projected to be less than forecasted in the draft for both FY14 and FY15. Until the impact of the two events is known, the administration wants to be cautious about increasing school funding. In the fall, the borough plans to review the local contribution. 

“This $500,000 that the mayor has asked us to give is a compromise position … and I think I want to reward the school district people who are looking after the business of the school and appropriate this money for them,” said assembly member Brent Johnson.

The borough can increase funding to the district after the budget is passed, but it cannot decrease its funding.

“I say keep the $500,000 in our account and let them demonstrate that they need it,” said assembly member Charlie Pierce. “… There’s no emergency here.”

The assembly narrowly passed the increase with five yes votes and four no votes. Funding for schools is the borough’s highest expense at 65.7 percent of the general fund.

Pierce proposed halving the budgets for four non-departmentals — the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, Central Area Rural Transit System, Small Business Development Center and Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. 

Pierce said he thinks residents of the Kenai Peninsula are split on whether their tax dollars should support non-profits.

“I think it’s a 50-50 issue, so tonight what I’d like to do is speak to the voice of both parties,” Pierce said.

He said each agency provides valuable services to the community, but they can raise funds.

“I think the government here is forcing some of the hands that say they don’t really see the benefit,” Pierce said.

Assembly member Wayne Ogle proposed to amend Pierce’s proposed cuts to reduce KPEDD, SBDC and KPTMC’s budgets by 10 percent.

He said he agrees with Pierce’s viewpoint, but offered a smaller reduction to show fiscal restraint and indicate to non-profits that they should seek funding elsewhere. 

Assembly member Kelly Wolf said he believes nonprofits should seek financial support from corporations. 

The assembly considered and voted on each organization separately. 

None of the proposed reductions passed. KPEDD’s funding remains at $50,000, SBDC will receive $105,000 and KPTMC will get $300,000.

CARTS’s budget was doubled to $25,000 through an amendment proposed by assembly member Mako Haggerty. CARTS receives federal government funding based on local government contributions.

“If we start to pull back from our support of CARTS then they’re going to start to lose some of that higher revenue stream,” Haggerty said.

CARTS expanded its services into Homer recently and assembly member Sue McClure, who represents the East Peninsula, said she would like to see the organization expand to Seward as well.

The assembly cut money from its travel budgets. Assembly member Dale Bagley proposed reducing out-of-state travel from $19,350 to $5,000 and in-state travel from $26,000 to $5,000. Pierce amended out-of-state travel to $10,000 and in-state travel to $16,000. 

The assembly passed the Pierce-amended amounts.

Bagley also proposed zeroing out the dues and subscriptions and the contingency budgets. Dues and subscriptions for the Alaska Municipal League and the National Association of Counties remained at $30,000. The assembly voted to cut the contingency budget from $20,000 to $0.

The assembly unanimously approved adding an administrative assistant position to the capital projects department for the duration of the construction of the Central Peninsula Hospital Specialty Clinic building. The position, proposed by the mayor, is estimated to last two years. The project will take on 75 percent of the cost of the position and the capital project administrative budget will support 25 percent of the position.

The assembly increased total general fund appropriations from $74.4 million to $74.9 million. Revenues and other funding sources for the general fund were originally estimated to be $73 million. However sales tax revenues are projected to be lower than originally forecasted.