After months of planning and nearly two hours of last-minute wrangling, the Kenai Peninsula borough has a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Borough Assembly members debated funds earmarked for the school district, the amount budgeted for tourism and marketing and a $300,000 appropriation for a study on flooding along Kalifornsky Beach Road.
The biggest change, and increase to the budget deficit, was a decision to fund the Kenai Peninsula Borough school district to the maximum amount allowed by the state — or just over an additional $2.2 million. That brought the borough’s budget deficit to an estimated $3.9 million to be drawn from its general fund.
Assembly member Blaine Gilman first moved to fund the district to the cap.
“We know the pressure on the state fiscally right now, we know or it’s likely that what’s going to happen next year is there will be another reduction in school funding,” Gilman said.
The borough’s maximum amount that it can fund to the school district is contingent on the amount given to the school district by the state.
The spending plan approved by the Legislature in late April stripped more than $1 billion out of an account set aside to provide school districts with funding. That money would have given school districts some measure of stability, as it provided the promise of forward-funding for the upcoming year. However, the Legislature is still in negotiation on its budget and has yet to complete a funding plan.
Gilman said he’d like to see the borough provide the school district with a cushion against upcoming cuts.
The assembly voted 6-3 to fund the school district to the cap of more than $48 million.
Assembly President Dale Bagley, one of the dissenting votes, said after the meeting that he did not like the idea of putting the borough further into debt to keep the district out of potential future debt.
“The school district has a large fund balance (savings) and the Kenai Peninsula Borough has a large fund balance and what we’re doing is probably keeping their fund balance the same and taking a big hit on our fund balance,” Bagley said.
While the school district was allocated more money, the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council and residents along Kalifornsky Beach Road were not as successful.
During discussion on the marketing council’s proposed budget increase, George Pierce of Kasilof said he was tired of seeing non-profits use taxpayer money to pay for services.
“When I had a business, I had to go out and get a business license. Then I had to pay borough tax. I didn’t come up here asking for more money to help my business,” he said. “If you want to do something about giving money away, take all of the money from the non-profits and give it to the education department.”
Assembly member Kelly Cooper motioned to reduce the marketing council’s budget by $40,000 from the $380,000 in the mayor’s budget proposal. That amount is still higher than the $300,000 given to the council in recent years.
Marketing council Vice President and Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center President Johna Beech said that removing the borough’s marketing mechanism would make it more difficult for cities and unincorporated areas to attract tourists.
“The State of Alaska goes to the Lower 48 and says ‘Hey, come to Alaska.’ KPTMC then says ‘Hey, come to the Kenai Peninsula.’ Then my organization says ‘Hey, come to Kenai.’ Soldotna’s organization says “Hey, come to Soldotna.’ If you get rid of KPTMC, then I will have to figure out how to partner with the state of Alaska to get people to figure out how to come to Kenai,” she said. “If you cut funding, nobody’s going to know about the Kenai Peninsula.”
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the borough’s decision to fund the marketing council was based on a need for the service that the council could provide.
“We don’t give them money,” he said. “We contract out for a service.”
Ultimately, the assembly voted in favor of the $40,000 reduction.
Assembly Member Stan Welles suggested adding $300,000 to the budget for a high water relief and prevention feasibility study in the Kalifornsky Beach areas affected by flooding. He received little support for the measure.
Peggy Dye, whose home has been affected by flooding, said it was difficult to determine what caused the flooding. She said there have been times when the area received a record amount of snowfall and rain but did not flood.
“What happened in 2013. What has changed in 2013? These are questions best answered by hydrologists, geologists and engineers,” she said. “Will you please support a feasibility study in the K-Beach area to identify the cause or causes of the high groundwater that occurred?”
Assembly member Wayne Ogle asked Dye what problems might exist with the Kalifornsky Beach residents forming a flood service area to pay for their own issues.
“I think to sell the idea of taxing the residents, we’re going to have to have answers ahead of time,” Dye said. “We’ve already paid tremendously for repairs to our properties.”
Kelly Wolf, whose district includes the flooded areas, said he learned during his time in the Legislature to avoid meddling in other people’s districts. Wolf said he did not believe the borough assembly had the authority to appropriate that money as there was no clear mechanism for doing so, and that he believed residents should form a flood service area to pay for their own study.
“Another member of this body is kicking in my district and I want to bite back,” he said. “I was there. My kids’ school had to use an outhouse. People in this audience had to use the same thing when their septic systems failed. The K-Beach area was impacted, drastically. But we hold a fiduciary responsibility here… we don’t even know which department we can really even put it in.”
Wolf said he had asked Welles to remove his amendment and allow the two to work together on a compromise.
“Remember, it’s my district,” he said.
Welles was the only assembly member to vote in favor of the study.
Reach Rashah McChesney at email@example.com.