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Assembly to consider fiscal notes at Tuesday Seward meeting

Posted: April 13, 2013 - 8:30pm

More than a year after the subject was first brought up, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will discuss whether or not it should attach fiscal notes to the resolutions and ordinances it considers.

If not an absolute first, the borough is at least several decades removed from the last such requirement it had on the books, Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said.

Assembly President Linda Murphy in November 2011 first brought up the subject and had talked with the then newly-elected Borough Mayor Mike Navarre about getting a measure before the assembly. Navarre and Murphy decided to hold off and Murphy said the item dropped off her radar because of more pressing matters.

Resolution 2013-037 would establish a fiscal note policy requiring a fiscal form be attached to all proposed legislation expected to have a monetary impact on the borough starting July 1. The resolution will be up for a decision Tuesday at the assembly’s annual east Kenai Peninsula meeting at 6 p.m. in Seward City Hall.

The note would require a list of required operating expenditures for two years out including personnel, supplies, services and capital outlay. It would also require listing expected revenue sources — federal, state and local — supplemental funding and a list of required positions, full time, part time or temporary for two years.

Murphy said she wants the measure to simply be something that informs the assembly of what the anticipated costs or savings would be of taking an action.

“And often there is a cost to not doing something,” she said. “So, I wanted all of that to be upfront so people couldn’t say later, ‘Well, the administration never told us that this was going to cost the borough taxpayer this much money or it was going to cause an increase in staff levels or a decrease in staff levels.’”

If approved, the fiscal note will become a part of the borough’s policy manual and not its code. To change borough code, an item needs to be presented as an ordinance and undergo a public hearing before being considered by the assembly.

Murphy said the two would have almost the same impact, but having the fiscal note requirement in the policy manual would afford the borough more flexibility than if it were in code.

If the policy were in the code, the only way to deviate from it would be to draft and pass an ordinance allowing a future deviation.

“If it is policy, I think ... it would just take a simple vote without going to an ordinance to waive that provision,” Murphy said. “Honestly, most things that this is going to cover are going to be in ordinance form. So if we wanted to deviate, we would have to put in the legislation that we are not requiring the fiscal note for whatever reason. But, I can’t see that happening either.”

Murphy said she asked Borough Finance Director Craig Chapman about what extra workload the note would require. Chapman said that for most legislation it shouldn’t be much, she said.

“He said for something really involved, like the anadromous streams additions, it would be a little more time consuming, or sometimes a great deal more time consuming to put those numbers together, but also a great deal of the burden will fall on the originating department,” Murphy said.

Navarre said he was hesitant about implementing a fiscal note based on how he saw them used in the Alaska State Legislature. But, he said he is comfortable with the borough’s proposed note, which he said is simplified and won’t take a lot of time to fill out.

“In the Legislature I saw that the fiscal note could take more time and debate than could the underlying legislation and nobody intends that,” he said. “It is just really to try and give a snapshot about what the fiscal impacts of an ordinance might be.”

Assembly member Kelly Wolf, who is sponsoring the resolution with Murphy, agreed that he has seen first hand how fiscal notes have been abused in Juneau.

“Yes fiscal notes can be used to kill legislation, maybe some of that legislation should be killed, but that’s not what I’m concerned about,” he said. “I’m more concerned about how the people’s money is being spent.”

Wolf said he always thought borough resolutions and ordinance required fiscal notes and was surprised to find out that wasn’t the case after he was elected. He said he expects the measure to pass the assembly with little resistance.

“Short and simple, when we are spending the peoples’ money, we’ve got to look at the fact that an elected official should always be mindful of their fiduciary responsibility to the people,” he said. “Coming up with laws and regulations without any mindful review of how that money is being spent is the short road to disaster.”

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

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