Assembly pushes to finish budget

Economic development division spared cut, work on bed tax issue postponed until today

Posted: Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Kenai Peninsula Borough's Community and Economic Development Division narrowly escaped an effort Tuesday to eliminate all its funding from the proposed fiscal year 2006 borough budget.

During debate over the 2006 spending plan, assembly member Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, moved to shift the grant manager's position from the CEDD budget to the administration's budget and end funding for the division altogether, producing an estimated savings of roughly $356,000.

That would have resulted in the loss of the economic analyst position held by Jeanne Camp, the borough's oil and gas liaison position held by Bill Popp, the CEDD business manager position held by Jack Brown, and half a position held by Bunny Kishaba, whose job is also funded by the Small Business Development Center. The center, however, would have had to find a new home, since funding for the rental on the building would have been eliminated.

Mayor Dale Bagley had urged the assembly not to abandon funding for the CEDD, or at least to delay its demise until Jan. 31, 2006, to give the new mayor to be elected this fall (Bagley is not running) a chance to decide how he or she wants to approach the CEDD.

Bagley said he had been somewhat shocked at the proposal to do away with positions that, among other things, compile economic data for quarterly reports and deal with oil and gas and now mining developers on behalf of the borough.

Assembly President Gary Superman said the CEDD office had done good work and showed the borough was committed to economic development. He opposed cutting its funds.

"I've watched this office do a lot of positive work. It would be a drastic mistake at this point for us to be cutting them out of the loop," he said.

Sprague said it hadn't been easy for him when he made basically the same proposal last year and was even more difficult this year. He said he wasn't speaking against economic development but the assembly continues to hear public calls for cuts of 5 and 10 percent or more, an idea he favors, as opposed to raising taxes. Cutting government involves tough decisions, he said.

"It frustrates me a little bit that it doesn't appear the assembly really has the will," he said.

The assembly rejected Sprague's proposal by a 3-6 vote.

Popp said Tuesday night that he was relieved his job was not eliminated but noted he was not anticipating having a job beyond the mayoral term of his boss. That would be up to the new mayor to decide.

Camp said she "didn't get much sleep" Tuesday, not so much over the prospect of losing her job, but simply because she'd decided to stay up and listen to the assembly debate, which lasted until midnight.

"I'm going to bed early tonight," she said Wednesday.

Another amendment to the proposed budget appears to have saved a full-time position at the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Homer office.

The spending plan had called for cutting the office job to a half-time position, a cost-shaving measure opposed by Homer area residents, business owners and Homer city officials who say they depend on easy access to borough records and services.

Tuesday night in Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted 7-2 to restore the position to a full-time job.

"This is a position that has existed in Homer full time since 1996," assembly member Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, said. "And certainly with the tremendous amount of growth that we've enjoyed in the Homer area, the utilization of that position only grows with each year."

Assembly member Chris Moss, of Homer, also supported restoration of the full-time position.

"This is actually the only liaison people down there have with the central peninsula without coming up here," he said. "I think it's appropriate that an area that has nearly a quarter of the population should have at least one person there that can deal with folks up here. It is bad public policy to reduce the staff level down there. We need a presence to show people the borough exists."

Only assembly members Dan Chay, of Kenai, and Paul Fischer, of Kasilof, opposed the restoration.

The assembly did not complete work on the document Tuesday, which means that steps taken to restore the Homer position and save the CEDD are not yet set in stone.

The assembly is scheduled to reconvene its regular meeting at 10 a.m. today. At that time they are also expected to take up reconsideration of the controversial bed tax ordinance. The assembly voted May 17 to send the bed tax measure to the fall municipal ballot. If approved by voters, it would allow imposition of a bed tax of up to 4 percent on hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast accommodations.

A tourist industry group is hoping to convince borough lawmakers to consider a broader-based tourism tax that would spread the burden beyond accommodations businesses.

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