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Assembly wrestles with budget

Posted: May 19, 2011 - 2:52pm

Funding of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's non-departmental agencies took center stage during Tuesday's Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting.

The assembly heard testimony from several residents advocating to have funding reinstated for the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council and to keep funding intact for the Kenai Peninsula College in the 2012 budget proposed by Borough Mayor David Carey.

The assembly took no action on the budget items. However, public testimony was cut short as the clock struck midnight, forcing the assembly to adjourn. President Gary Knopp said the assembly would resume budget discussions at its June 7 meeting in Soldotna.

Carey proposed the $71 million budget to the assembly on May 3. On Tuesday he outlined several actions the assembly could take to trim the $1.7 million needing to be pulled from the general fund balance to achieve a balanced budget.

Among the changes in revenue suggested were revenue sharing from the Alaska Legislature's allocation of $715,660 to the borough, increases in fees for solid waste, planning and other departments, pending valuation of improvements made at the Tesoro oil refinery and increased employee contributions to the borough's health insurance plan.

Carey also suggested deletion of the capital project director position, closure of the solid waste transfer stations and landfills on Sundays from October through April and a reduction in travel costs with the utilization of a new air miles account.

However, a mayor-suggested funding cut to Kenai Peninsula College totaling $657,791 was the concern of several residents and assembly members.

Paul Perry, a Kenai resident and KPC paramedic program coordinator, spoke to the assembly about what the college and his department does for the community they don't receive compensation for.

"I am but one faculty member and I give back to the Kenai Peninsula Borough," he said. "There are more. I know that the borough's assembly recognizes that the college is a lot more valuable to the Kenai Peninsula than offering education when it comes to the tax paying public, or helping to training future Kenai Peninsula Borough employees.

"I hope you can see that funding the college campus just makes good sense."

Pete Sprague, a former assemblyman and Soldotna resident, seconded Perry's thoughts.

"Kenai Peninsula College is a key economic development engine for the borough and the state," he said. "The college provides training and education in a number of disciplines and industries, including oil and gas and health care, both of which are crucial to the economic vitality of the borough.

"To hobble these efforts now is incomprehensible to me. The most I can ask is that you please maintain the level of funding that is in the budget."

Carey stressed that his suggestions were merely that, and funding for the college would remain intact unless the assembly voted to pull it out.

The same, however, is not true for the KPTMC. Shanon Hamrick, KPTMC executive director, asked the assembly to add on about $300,000 to the budget for her organization to maintain previous year's funding levels.

"Everybody that's here tonight really wants this borough and our communities to thrive and this should not be an issue of tax payers versus KPTMC," Hamrick said. "We are here to work in conjunction with the borough to be an asset, to work for our members and to help grow our economy.

"We are here year-round fighting to grow our tourism businesses and grow our economy and we all truly believe that we all prosper individually by working collectively."

Assemblyman Brent Johnson asked Hamrick about the progress KPTMC has made regarding getting the proposal for a 1 percent sales tax, or self-assessment, on the tourism industry onto the October ballot.

Hamrick said her organization was "working aggressively" to foster support for the idea and check its legality.

"I am able to support you this year, but I can't do this forever," Johnson said.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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