Assembly passes borough budget

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a final budget for Fiscal Year 2017 at its Tuesday meeting.

The budget will go into effect after the borough’s current fiscal year ends on June 30. Several assembly members said they were pleased with administrators’ efforts to reduce borough spending and called the budget a modest one.

Not including a few amendments, the assembly passed a general fund amount of approximately $79.7 million, which includes about $18.3 million for general government operations, $48.2 million for school district operations, $4.1 million for school debt service and $6.2 million for the solid waste department, among other services.

Borough administrators also moved to trim some expense by combining the Capital Projects Department and the Purchasing Department, resulting in about $351,000 in savings, according to a memo from the administration. The assembly passed the merger at its Tuesday meeting.

One major point of contention was over the landfill. The budget proposed closing the borough’s landfill operations for one day a week, both the transfer sites and the Central Peninsula Landfill. Administrators estimated the move would save approximately $275,000 annually, according to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s proposed budget.

Several assembly members objected, citing worries for peninsula businesses that would not be able to operate without somewhere to haul their trash. Assembly member Dale Bagley presented an amendment to restore the seven-day landfill operation year-round, but it did not pass. Another amendment to leave it open seven days per week from May through September did pass.

“This is a service that the borough provides to the people that are here and I want to see us keep providing it,” Bagley said, speaking to his first amendment to keep the landfill open for seven days per week year-round. “It’s one of the most important things that we do.”

Employees of Alaska Waste, which hauls about 40 percent of the peninsula’s trash, also objected to the closures because of the impact on businesses. Administrators initially proposed closing the landfill on a Thursday, which would adversely impact businesses like construction and food service, said Dennis Smith, an Alaska Waste employee. He recommended that Sunday would be a better day for the closure.

“Garbage is the exhaust of the economic engine that drives our cities and our borough,” Smith said in his testimony to the assembly. “One of the things I don’t care (for) about in this particular proposal is the disruption that I feel it would create in the waste system … (Garbage) is a constant flow that goes on and on and on.”

Navarre said he thinks the closure is possible because the Municipality of Anchorage’s landfill is closed on Sundays.

“Still, somehow (Anchorage manages) a significantly larger amount of waste in Anchorage than we manage here,” Navarre said.

Sarah Crapuchettes, who manages Alaska Waste’s accounts on the Kenai Peninsula, said the company would have to adapt to the one-day closure for seven months.

Other amendments the assembly tackled in the budget were to shift some funds within the school capital improvement projects, cancelling a $100,000 areawide locker replacement project and reducing an areawide bleacher replacement project to provide funds for a tank separation project in Nanwalek, which will cost $125,000. Another amendment reduced funds for an areawide water quality project to provide funds to the school district to reconfigure Skyview Middle School’s library into classrooms. One change added an additional expense of $12,168 to the budget as part of the changes made to the purchasing department personnel.

The assembly did consider a request from Navarre and Bagley to restore $50,000 in funding to the Central Area Rural Transit System, a nonprofit that provides public transportation, which the assembly voted on May 17 to remove from its budget. Withdrawing the borough’s support would block CARTS from leveraging additional grants from the federal and state governments.

Joyanna Geisler, the executive director of the Independent Living Center, a nonprofit that provides services to the elderly and disabled, testified to the assembly in favor of restoring the funding. However, she requested that a clause be included in the grant agreement that some of the funds be used for the Independent Living Center’s taxi voucher program, which lost its funding this year from the state during the grant application process.

After some debate, the borough voted not to restore the funding. Several assembly members said they felt uncomfortable with setting a precedent of funding one nonprofit with the stipulation that it direct the funds to another.

At the end of the night, Navarre thanked the assembly for passing the budget. He said there will be challenges in the future for the borough’s finances that will need to be addressed, such as increasing health care costs. The budget did increase this year, but “it’s continually a work in progress.”

“As we sit through these meetings and we listen to the public discussion, it’s not an easy to task to govern — lots of diverse opinions, more opinions than there are people in the borough because they change all the time,” Navarre said. “I just wanted to thank the assembly for their work on the budget tonight and for their service to the public and for passing the budget, which I think we did a great job on.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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