The Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor's attempt to deliver a tax-cutting budget that called for dipping $7 million deep into the borough's savings didn't fly with the assembly on Tuesday night.
After much boisterous discussion and not-so-furtive personal attacks, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly ultimately approved a $73 million budget that should hold property taxes relatively steady with a 4.5 mill rate.
Borough Mayor Dave Carey bore much of the brunt Tuesday night as some assembly members vented their frustrations over their belief that the administration failed to keep spending in check.
Assemblyman Charlie Pierce, of Sterling, said the mayor has not lived up to campaign promises.
"Mr. Mayor, I have to take a critical view of what you've perceived as a status quo budget. I would not be proud to sit in your seat and present this kind of behavior," Pierce said. "There's no efforts made in here to cut any costs."
Assemblyman Gary Knopp, of Kalifornsky, presented his own cost-cutting solution on Tuesday, but the majority of the assembly wouldn't go for it. Knopp proposed eliminating 18 borough jobs, whose salaries total $1.8 million.
Knopp said drastic measures are needed to prevent the assembly from depleting its fund balance in the coming years. The budget approved on Tuesday will draw $3.3 million from the borough's fund balance, setting it at $19.6 million. The mayor's proposed budget would have put the fund balance at about $16 million. Borough policy suggests keeping the balance between $12.8 million and $22.1 million.
"I don't see anybody who brought to the table a solution to this. The administration should have brought a solution," Knopp said. "Spending $7 million of your savings account is an issue. If we don't do something this year, next year will really be a disaster."
Knopp gave assembly members a list of the positions that he suggested cutting, but he had to address each one individually. After the assembly voted 6-3 not to eliminate two Solid Waste positions, Knopp did not continue with the list.
Knopp, Pierce and Paul Fischer, of Kasilof, were the only three assembly members in favor of cutting the positions.
Assemblyman Bill Smith, of Homer, said eliminating jobs was not the right move at the moment.
"Maybe the only answer is if we can't contain the costs associated with these positions that we have to eliminate the positions, but it's too sudden. It doesn't lend itself to good management practices," Smith said. "By replacing positions as suggested by Mr. Knopp, I think that's sort of micromanaging the positions, and I think that should be the job of the administration."
Instead, the assembly cut from the mayor's budget proposal in other ways. One of the biggest cuts came from school district funding. The mayor proposed allotting $45 million to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, but the assembly awarded only $43.2 million to the area's schools. The school district comprises about two thirds of the borough's budget.
The assembly also put the kibosh on a new half-time clerk job in human resources and kept a Central Emergency Services clerk at half time instead of moving it to full time, as the mayor's budget proposed.
In addition, the assembly eliminated about $10,000 in proposed pay increases to Kachemak Emergency Service Area personnel.
For Knopp, Tuesday night's cuts were ineffective.
"I went into tonight thinking this assembly would move toward a balanced budget. All we're doing is just nickel diming things," Knopp said.
Others, like Assemblyman Gary Superman, of Nikiski, were more satisfied.
"There's been some outcry that 'God dangit we've really got to take a hatchet to this thing.' We do have a little bit of time," Superman said. "We have turned the corner somewhat, so maybe that will carry us for another year."
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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