Debate over the value of marketing, small business development and the Kenai Peninsula’s economic development district dominated budget discussion May 19 as Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members worked to cut spending.
The FY 2015-16 budget proposal for the borough went through a second round of scrutiny, public comment and wrangling between borough members during several committee meetings and the general assembly meeting. It will go through one more round of public comment before being adopted by the assembly during its June 2 meeting.
After hearing reports from each department, assembly members were asked to submit any changes they had during the assembly meeting — though they’ll be able to suggest changes through the final June 2 meeting.
Assembly member Blaine Gillman proposed cutting $460,000 from the budget by defunding the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, the Small Business Development Center and the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, KPTMC.
“I think our focus needs to be on core services,” Gillman said.
Non-profits who serve non-departmental functions for the borough should instead be seeking money from private sources, Gillman said.
Board member Kelly Wolf echoed Gillman’s sentiment.
“At some point, we’re going to have to grab a hold of our expenses. We’re seeing the State of Alaska trying to wrestle the budget down in Juneau and we’re facing additional expenses and, at some point in time, we have to grab our own bootstraps,” Wolf said. “I strongly support nonprofits standing on their own and going after the corporate dollar.”
During the public comment period on the budget, KPTMC board member Tami Murray said marketing brought significant value to the Kenai Peninsula.
“You could simplify it and say that it only affects tourism-related business … but in reality, it affects everyone on the peninsula,” Murray said.
The tourism marketing council stands to receive $380,000 next year if the budget is passed as-is.
“Twenty-five percent of the Kenai Peninsula sales tax comes from tourism. In 2014 that was roughly $7.5 million,” she said. “We have to think about where that money goes, how it’s not all put back into tourism. I’d say that $400,000 or so of that $7.5 million is a very good return on your investment.”
Assembly member Mako Haggerty said he was dismayed to see that non-profits were again on the chopping block for borough funding.
“I’m always a little baffled this time of year how we lump all the nonprofits into one group and then vilify them,” he said. “Every non-profit has its own role in our community, some need help and some don’t. The idea to go to corporations, to corporate pockets, is almost scary to me because then corporations will be funding everything and I don’t think that’s a good direction to go.”
Ultimately borough assembly members voted to lower the amount of money appropriated to the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District to $67,500 which is ten percent below the $75,000 in the budget proposal.
That amount is $17,500 more than what EDD was given last year.