Assembly trims 2004 budget

Posted: Thursday, June 05, 2003

Several attempts to reduce the general mill levy were thwarted Tuesday evening at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting, while the Central Peninsula General Hospital service area received a half-mill increase. The general tax levy will remain at 6.5 mills.

The assembly managed to trim more than $80,000 off the 2004 general fund fiscal budget that had proposed more than $55.8 million in operational expenses.

"I'm very pleased with the amendments that were made tonight," said borough Mayor Dale Bagley after the meeting, which lasted until midnight.

Five budget amendments passed that reduced the sum by $139,200, while one amendment returned funds to the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. Two more passed that added $58,869. And two to lower the general mill rate failed in the closing moments of the meeting.

With 15 minutes remaining before midnight, assembly member Paul Fischer of Kasilof put forward an amendment to the resolution to declare the mill rate. His proposal would reduce the tax levy on property by 0.5 mills, the equivalent of about a $2.1 million reduction to the borough revenue.

"This is just one way to give every home owner a tax break," he said.

However, east peninsula assembly member Ron Long led the objections to the last-minute proposal.

"We've been looking at the budget for the past two days," Long said. "To have this sort of proposal that makes this major a shift at this time is not realistic."

The measure was voted on and defeated 6-3, with Fischer, Kalifornsky assembly member John Davis and Kenai assembly member Betty Glick supporting the amendment.

A second Fischer amendment to reduce the mill rate by 0.1 mill was defeated, as well, with only assembly member Grace Merkes of Sterling lending a "yes" vote.

A measure to increase the CPGH service area mill rate by 0.1 mill was approved, allotting $287,000 to support the hospital's Serenity House and Sexual Assault Team-Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners programs.

Fischer moved an amendment, however, to delete those funds from the budget, complaining that tax dollars shouldn't fund programs that will "continue to lose money," without going to a ballot.

He also took exception to the fact that Serenity House is federally mandated to admit anyone, regardless of whether they can afford treatment or where they are from.

"I don't think it's proper to fund a section of the hospital with a mill rate," he said. "People from Anchorage can come down here and you can't turn them away."

Gary Superman of Nikiski said programs like Serenity House were supposed to benefit from the increased state revenue last year's liquor tax hike generated. He said he supported Fischer's amendment.

"The public was fed a line that the alcohol tax was created with the idea that it would fund alcohol abuse programs," Superman said. "People at the (hospital service area) board should hold the state's feet to the fire."

When the amendment was voted on, only Fischer, Superman and Glick supported it in a 6-3 vote.

The assembly approved adding $50,000 to the budget for overall funding for senior centers. Senior citizen and adult daycare funding is based on the number of citizens participating, and the count in Seldovia and Seward recently saw significant decline.

The opening of the Cooper Landing Senior Citizens Center took 163 clients from Seward, and Seldovia simply saw a reduction in clients. The budget line item increase would compensate for the resulting funding loss those declines created and give all of the senior centers a little more money across the board.

The Coastal Zone Management program was increased by $8,869 to reflect changes in state funding. Local matching requirements changed from 30 to 50 percent, and the funds are used primarily to staff borough efforts to manage borough coastal lands.

Contractual services were trimmed by $75,000 to cut reimbursements to cities that process or dispose of animals from outside the cities' boundaries.

When an amendment from Homer assembly member Chris Moss was passed that transferred $50,000 from the borough's Community Economic Develop-ment District to the EDD passed, South Peninsula assembly member Milli Martin interjected an amendment that would move more funds to the nonprofit.

"I don't believe $50,000 is sufficient for EDD," she said.

Martin proposed removing $25,000 from Central Area Rural Transportation Systems, the van service that offers low-cost transportation. The program had been budgeted in previous years at $50,000, and the additional funds were set aside for the contingency of operating programs in Seward and Homer, if the need was expressed.

"I think CARTS needs to remain at the level it is at," Martin said. "My constituency has come to me with concerns for the financial part of that every year. And they're concerned with raising that money."

Long said he had heard no request from Seward for the service, and the funds were deleted from the budget.

An amendment to remove the remaining $50,000 CARTS funding failed, however. Glick suggesting removing the entire program until it could be developed into a service area.

"I view this as a major power," she said. "It is one of those things that can expand and become a real user of money. And because it is used in cities, it creates an inequitable situation."

Superman rejected Glick's amendment, saying CARTS provided the only means of transportation for some people. He said it was a sound investment, as well, because the program used the money to match with federal dollars to increase its revenue.

"I'm reluctant to take away a person's only option," Superman said. "And these dollars are leveraged by CARTS to get more money."

The amendment failed by a 6-3 vote, that Glick, Fischer and Moss supported.

Moss proposed scaling back the borough's promotion cost by $12,500. This money was budgeted as part of funds to be used by the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Market-ing Counsel to market the borough's visitor industry to the rest of the state and Outside visitors.

The amount cut from the promotion funds would have been an increase above the $120,000 that was budgeted in previous years.

"I'm supportive of the organization," Moss said of the new KPTMC administration. "But it's always good to have show a performance increase before increasing funding."

The assembly approved $200,000 to the budget added by the mayor to support the Kenai Peninsula Arctic Winter Games Host Society, the organization responsible for putting together the 2006 Arctic Winter Games. In addition, a line appeared in the budget that called for $25,200 to pay for rental space for the organization.

Glick called for this line to be removed from the budget.

"The host society should decide how to pay for this expense," she said, and the amendment passed.

The assembly also unanimously passed an amendment to delete a $1,500 medical malpractice line item from the Bear Creek Fire service that was determined unnecessary.

The assembly also appropriated $7.04 million in general obligation bond proceeds to fund Phase 1 of the Central Peninsula Landfill expansion project. In addition, $855,365 was allocated for debt service fund to repay the debt on the bond.

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