Kenai residents had their chance to comment on the city's approximately $20 million budget for fiscal year 2011 Wednesday night, but no one had anything to say, let alone was present at the meeting.
"Amazing. We have a $13 million (general fund) budget," said Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, talking about the lack of public comments.
But the empty council chambers did not stop council members from holding their tongues.
Council member Joe Moore immediately proposed an amendment to the budget, suggesting the city use some of the $600,000 additional expected sales tax revenue from Walmart to allow an additional .35 mil property tax reduction on top of the city's already proposed .15 mil reduction for this fiscal year.
The current mil rate is 8.85.
"I would like to see this council provide some relief to local retailers and residents," Moore said, citing negative impacts he says the box store has had on small vendors.
However, uncertainty about the state legislature's strategy to deal with the under-funded pension plans for public employees lead other members of the council to not support this amendment.
"If there's a PERS situation in Juneau -- to drop it .35 and then come back and look at a two plus increase tells me I'm not planning correctly," said council member Bob Molloy.
Moore's amendment on the further reduced the mil rate failed.
Council member Hal Smalley proposed a number of additions and subtractions during the meeting. He wanted to redline a $41,000 truck for the public works department, $10,000 slotted for a new playground and $11,000 for fencing around Ryan's Creek to mitigate pollution.
All of these amendments failed, too.
"I'm obviously opposed to nickel and diming the budget," said Council member Barry Eldridge.
Smalley also wanted to add $10,000 to the budget in the legislative fund for lobbying against an "anti-corruption" initiative on the ballot this October that is said to inhibit public participation in government. This amendment also failed.
"I'm philosophically opposed to fund a campaign against other Alaska citizens," said council member Ryan Marquis.
Smalley's other additions of $5,000 to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and $20,000 to the comprehensive plan for an Old Town development plan both passed, despite a few grumblings from Moore.
Some contention arose over city personnel issues. Currently, the city is waiting on grant funding to pay for three new firefighter and emergency medial technician positions that are not included in the budget. If the grant does not come through there are plans to use the some of the city's $200,000 surplus to make that work. There's also a continuing issue of the need for additional staff for the clerk's office and the finance department that would eat up some of the surplus money that could be used to fund the firefighter positions, if needed.
In an attempt to free up some more personnel funds, Marquis suggested an amendment to remove a $100,000 IT position for the finance department and put $60,000 of that back into contractual services.
Council member Mike Boyle added $90,000 to the budget for a wind generator project.
"I would like to see this go through. I think it's a direction the citizens of Kenai would like to see," he said. His amendment passed.
All the council member additions and subtractions resulted in a total increase of $73,730, bringing the budget to the $20 million total.
Many on the council said that this year's budget process was unusually long and, many times, contentious. For example, some members said that issues that came up Wednesday evening had already been covered during numerous work sessions earlier this year.
"In my four years this is the most painful budget session we've had," Eldridge said.
The city's budget this year is up some 9 percent from last year, mainly due to increased investment earnings in the airport special revenue fund, as well as the debt that will be accrued for construction of the Kenai Library addition.
The total mil rate for the city of Kenai this year will be 8.85, the lowest in the central Peninsula and the same as the K-Beach area. Due to a administrative snafu, this rate was not formally set by council after passage of the budget because it was inadvertently left off Wednesday night's agenda.
The council will hold a special work session on Monday evening to set the mil rate.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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