The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved Mayor John Williams’ extensive budget cuts Tuesday, but an amendment deemed at least partly symbolic spared $60,000 for the borough school district.
The $60,000 appropriation was part of the $780,000 in cuts Williams proposed as a response to projected shortfalls resulting from voters’ overturning of a sales tax increase last October. The money is for landscaping and grounds upkeep at borough schools.
Soldotna Middle School Principal Sharon Moock testified during the public comment period on the proposed amendment that keeping the appropriation in place sends the right message. Under the amendment, the school would pay the borough back, but keeping the appropriation in the borough budget means the borough would technically still be funding schools to the cap. This may help the district raise state revenues in the future.
“The $60,000 we’re talking about here is really not a lot of money. We can go and water the lawns at the schools this summer,” Moock said. “That isn’t the point we’re talking about here. It has to do with the image we’re portraying to the Legislature that education is our first priority and that we fund it to the maximum.”
A $70,000 cut in operational funding for the borough did pass.
The assembly also approved the introduction of an proposed ordinance granting $500,000 to the Arctic Winter Games Host Society. Gov. Frank Murkowski has called for $500,000 for the Games in two high-priority state budget bills, but the Legislature won’t get to them until at least March 1.
The proposed $500,000 from the borough would cover expenses incurred before the state money comes through which is likely, but not guaranteed.
Several members of the assembly expressed concern over that uncertainty. Assembly member Milli Martin said the assembly already had appropriated $500,000 over three years to the Host Society.
“We promised the public it would not be more than that,” Martin said.
The measure will be open for public comment and assembly debate at the next meeting Feb. 21.
The assembly also struck down a material site permitting amendment that would require gravel pit operators to prove their proposed mining would do no harm to neighboring aquifers before beginning to dig. Currently, property owners are required to prove harm has been done.
Several residents of the Anchor Point area, which provides a great deal of gravel for the peninsula, testified to the amendment Tuesday, one of two ordinances taking on the thorny issue.
By voting down the amendment and postponing the vote on a more complete revision of the material site permitting requirements, the assembly sent a message that it they would rather wait and work on the issue than push trough the changes as written.
Assembly member Dan Chay, who proposed the amendment last year, said the entire set of rules needs retooling.
“There are lots of little details in it and it has a lot of problems,” Chay said.
Connie Alderson of Anchor Point, supported the amendment but not the broader changes. During her testimony, she said she hopes the issue can be resolved quickly.
“I just really hope you can get some regulations in place on this, because we really need it down there,” she said.
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