The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved its 2013 budget Tuesday night after making several adjustments concerning funding for non-departmental agencies and other governmental operations.
All told, the final budget amount decreased from Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre's proposed $73.1 million to a final of $72.9 million in large part due to a decrease of $500,000 in the amount the borough would have given to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. The borough's change was in response to a shift in state school funding, Navarre said.
Funding for general government operations landed at $17.1 million, up from the proposed $16.8 million.
Assembly president Gary Knopp said he thought the borough was in "really good shape" and praised Navarre's budget for being "comprehensive" and "manageable."
"This is probably one of the nicest budget cycles we've ran through," he said. "Surprisingly enough to me our fund balance has remained stable over the last three years even when we have had some deficit spending."
Assembly member Bill Smith echoed a similar sentiment, adding proposed expenditures were less than a 3 percent increase over 2010 expenditures.
"Given the increases in fuel costs and the cost of living increases for employees and other health care increases, I think that is a pretty significant effort over time demonstrated by these two administrations," he said. "So I don't think we are at the point where we need to make drastic adjustments."
Assembly member Hal Smalley moved to increase funding for the Central Area Rural Transit System by $25,000 for a total of $50,000. The measure failed, 5-4, with yes votes cast by Smalley, Mako Haggerty, Sue McClure and Linda Murphy.
"The mayor put together a budget here that reflected the decrease that we put in CARTS last year," assembly member Brent Johnson said. "From everything I can see, I'm going to be supporting the mayor's budget. I think he's got a whole lot more thumb on the pulse than I do, so to speak."
Said assembly member Ray Tauriainen, "I'm in favor of keeping it status quo rather than using fund balance for these increases."
Smalley also moved to increase funding for Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council by $60,000 to a total of $300,000. The motion was approved, 6-3, with no votes cast by Johnson, Tauriainen and Charlie Pierce.
"This organization does an outstanding job in marketing the Peninsula and bringing tourism to the Peninsula," Smalley said. "This has resulted in a significantly increased amount of money to our sales tax dollars, which we use to help fund education on the Peninsula. They're at the table when basically no one else would be at the table trying to bring tourism into the Peninsula."
Murphy agreed, adding she was more than willing to support KPTMC.
"Other boroughs have promotional departments ... but we don't do that," she said. "We do nothing to promote this borough. It is done solely by KPTMC and some of the local governments."
Said Smith regarding Navarre having KPTMC list what items it would cut from its budget if he held back $60,000 in funding as proposed, "I think having a sustained effort is important and I'm not willing to choose which $6,000 gets spent here or there. If we maintain where the contribution was for the last couple of years ... then I think (that's) a fair and appropriate thing to do."
Knopp said the borough should take a stand on the issue one way or another and perhaps fund more than just what KPTMC needs.
"I think we have been remiss in not making the decision if we want to actively promote the Kenai (Peninsula) Borough or not," he said. "We probably should have made that decision years and years ago. I'd rather put $800,000 in here and went out for (a request for proposal bid process to) open up and see what we've got."
Pierce said the assembly should ask the voters if they wanted to fund non-departmental organizations, calling it "nothing more than a donation of tax dollars" for things some consider important.
"The question has never been asked of the tax payers," he said. "I'm afraid we're afraid to hear the answer ... and so we avoid it every year."
A motion to decrease funding to the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District by $50,000 failed on a 3-6 vote. Funding for the organization will remain at $90,000. Navarre placed the funding in EDD's budget so the organization could lobby for a proposed gas pipeline to end at tide water within the borough.
Smith said he supported the measure -- lobbying for the gas line is important, but the borough should do it, not EDD.
"I think the power of the mayor's office to utilize the borough's resources in planning and coordinating and scheduling official actions is really where this effort should be made and not with the EDD," he said.
The assembly also approved, 6-3, to appropriate $200,000 to either hire or contract for services for an assembly-designated attorney. No votes were cast by Johnson, Tauriainen and Pierce.
Knopp proposed the funding and said he has for years mulled whether the assembly was ready for its own legal counsel. He said the appropriation wouldn't replace the borough attorney and doesn't tie the borough's hands to spending it. Rather it provides incentive for discussion, he said.
"I think about 85 percent of the decisions we make are based on legal decision and in a lot of the cases we should have more than one to consider," he said.
Knopp said the assembly and borough administration has gone through "great strides" over the years to reduce conflicts of interest when receiving legal advice. However, there are also some legislation or research assembly members can't pursue because of time constraints on the attorney's office.
"You can spend a lot of staff time on an issue that may never get off the ground here and you've wasted a lot of time," he said.
The assembly also unanimously approved Resolution 2012-051, which give the thumbs up for a sublease agreement between the borough, Central Peninsula General Hospital, Inc. and RBS Evolutions to provide radiation oncology services in an on-campus cancer center scheduled to be completed mid-April 2013.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.