Seldovia officials grapple with budget crunch

Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- Seldovia officials are considering forming service areas to help bring in new revenue to pay for fire, medical emergency and police services beyond city limits.

Officials say the town's chronic budget woes are making it hard to fully function.

Seldovia Police Chief Andy Anderson said roughly 20 to 25 percent of the incidents to which police respond are outside city limits.

The city's $360,000 general fund budget includes about $106,000 for police. The state compensates the department for aiding Alaska State Troopers and for services rendered outside the city under terms of a special services contract.

But that contract pays Seldovia only about $16,700 a year, a figure that hasn't changed since 1994, Anderson said.

''That doesn't take in the hours and patrols,'' he said.

Meanwhile, cost cutting by the city has eliminated a police clerical position and made a deputy's position a half-time job during the winter.

That job is not even filled at this point, Anderson said, and he wonders who would take such a job and still be able to live in Seldovia during the winter.

City Manager Ken Weaver said the city also spends about $45,000 a year on the Seldovia Ambulance and Fire Department, the city arm of fire and emergency services. It handles administration, insurance, workers compensation and capital costs such as trucks, buildings and utilities. The city also provides a part-time fire administrator position for 15 hours per week.

A volunteer nonprofit called Seldovia Volunteer Fire and Rescue handles fire fighting and other functions, according to Sue Hecks, who until this week was mayor of Seldovia.

Hecks said tight city budgets are a constant when it comes to keeping the department functioning.

''All equipment purchases, supplies and training funds are raised by selling pull-tabs and other fund-raising efforts and also small grants,'' she told the Peninsula Clarion.

Until recently, the Seldovia Village Tribe provided an EMS coordinator, but that position currently is empty.

''It's a collective process that makes this work,'' Hecks said. ''Volunteers spend an inordinate amount of time making this happen. Without them, we have nothing.''

Roughly 8 percent of the fire and EMS calls in 2000 were outside the city. The service averages about 20,000 volunteer hours a year, Hecks said.

Weaver said the city is providing services to the outlying area essentially for free. He said exploring the idea of a service area is a worthwhile exercise.

The Seldovia City Council has not gone as far as to petition the Kenai Peninsula Borough for a new service area, but members of the council did meet with borough officials late last month to go over the procedures necessary to begin.

Council member Walter McInnes said the city hopes to find a way for noncity residents to share the costs. A service area that raised revenue to pay for such services through a property tax levy would be one way.

''We are trying to come up with a more equitable, reasonable and fair system for paying for those services,'' McInnes said.

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