Homework: Study up on budget process

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2011

In reporting the state of the borough last week, Mayor Dave Carey indicated his upcoming budget would not increase borough spending over the current fiscal year. He also indicated that some costs would increase, by about 4.5 percent.

That means cuts will have to come from somewhere.

We mention that to get you thinking about this: the borough's biggest expenditure is funding for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. School funding has been a hot-button issue over the past two budget cycles as the borough administration has proposed not funding the district "to the cap," the maximum local contribution allowed under state law. Last year, the borough contributed $43 million toward the school district's $129 million budget.

The school district faces an annual dilemma in that it must construct its budget based on estimates of what funding it will receive, rather than hard numbers. This year, the school budget is slated for approval by the school board on April 4; the borough assembly will take it up in May.

The district administration is in the process of doing its estimation right now, and will share its preliminary budget with the school board during a work session on Feb. 21, and a presentation at the regular school board meeting that evening.

A series of public budget meetings will follow the presentation of the preliminary budget to the school board. Meetings are slated for 6 p.m. on Feb. 24 in the Homer High School library; 6 p.m. on March 1 in the Soldotna High School library; and 6 p.m. on March 3 at the Seward High School library.

While the preliminary budget presentation is a month and a half away, now is the time for residents of the Kenai Peninsula to become acquainted with the district budget process. The school district's budget document is as easy to read as a public budget document can be, and the preliminary budget will be posted ahead of the Feb. 21 presentation. In the mean time, current and past budgets, and well as fiscal analysis, are available on the school district website finance page, www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us.

All too frequently, the school district slogs through the budget process with little or no public input. Public budget presentations in the past have been sparsely attended. Yet, the outcry is overwhelming when the final version of the budget is released, and tough decisions made my administrators and school board members run contrary to public sentiment.

Budgets for the school district and borough already are tight, and indications are, things are going to stay tight for the foreseeable future. Now is the time to make sure public dollars are being spent in the way that best benefits our community. Take the time to look through the upcoming budget proposals. Public input in shaping these documents is more valuable by far than public outcry after they've been passed.

In short: Doing your homework now makes it less likely there will be a need to complain after the final exam has been graded.

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