The fiscal year 2015 annual budget balancing act finished the season with a unanimous passing vote.
But before its passage, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly discussed the document at length and made a few amendments at its Tuesday night meeting.
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-proposed amendments at the Tuesday meeting called for an increase of $500,000 to the school district.
Navarre said the borough can increase school funding later in the year, but it cannot decrease funding allocated in the budget. In the fall, the borough plans to review the local contribution.
Assembly member Brent Johnson thought the mayor-proposed amount was fair.
“This $500,000 that the mayor has asked us to give is a compromise position,” Johnson said. … “I want to reward the school district people who are looking after the business of the school and appropriate this money for them.”
Assembly member Charlie Pierce said he wanted to keep the $500,000 in the borough’s account and let the district show that it needs the funds.
“There’s no emergency here,” he said.
The assembly narrowly passed the increase with five yes votes and four no votes. Funding for schools is the borough’s highest expense using about 66 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 or not 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 the development district, the development center and the marketing council’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 non-profits should seek financial support from corporations.
The assembly considered and voted on each organization separately.
None of the proposed reductions passed. The development district’s funding remains at $50,000, the development center will receive $105,000 and the marketing council will get $300,000.
The rural transit system’s budget was doubled to $25,000 through an amendment proposed by assembly member Mako Haggerty. The rural transit system receives federal government funding based on local government contributions.
“If we start to pull back from our support of (the rural transit system) then they’re going to start to lose some of that higher revenue stream,” Haggerty said.
The rural transit system 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.
Assembly President Hal Smalley said he thinks the travel the assembly does to Washington D.C., Juneau and elsewhere for government reasons benefits the borough and the assembly. Smalley said when traveling, assembly members have worked on Beluga Whale studies, federal land management, payment in lieu of taxes and other issues.
“There’s strength in numbers,” Smalley said. “When people go back to (Washington) D.C. and they can specifically say, ‘This is the impact in my community,’ that’s what (representatives) need to hear and that’s what they want to hear.”
Speaking to in-state travel costs, Pierce said the assembly can speak with representatives for the districts within the borough on the phone or invite them to assembly chambers. He said he thinks sending the administration to Juneau is more effective.
The assembly passed Pierce’s amended amounts.
Bagley also proposed zeroing out the dues and subscriptions and the contingency budgets. Due 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.
Navarre said he thought the assembly had a good discussion about assembly travel.
“I think that a lot of it in Juneau and Washington D.C., a lot of what helps is relationships built up over time,” he said. “I think there’s value to some travel and I think the assembly recognizes that even with the reductions that they made.”
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, according to a memo through Navarre to the assembly, sales tax revenues are projected to be lower than originally forecasted due to the Kenai River closure to king salmon and the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire.
“I think all-in-all the budget process went very well, and, of course, I think our priorities are as they should be,” Navarre said.
The budget will take effect on July 1.
The next assembly meeting is at 6 p.m. on June 17 in Soldotna.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org