Assembly talks budget, money for special interests

  • By Rashah McChesney
  • Wednesday, May 6, 2015 9:57pm
  • News

Editor’s Note: The story has been edited to clarify Peggy Dye’s statements requesting that the borough assembly fund a feasibility study for residents of Kalifornsky Beach Road who have been affected by flooding. 

It was all about money during a four-hour meeting at which Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members heard about funding schools, flooding and animal control.

More than a dozen community members testified to the borough assembly that the issues they were facing needed further study — and therefore further funds — from the borough. The one revenue-raising issue on the agenda —an ordinance which would raise the amount of money that could be subject to sales tax in the borough — was postponed until the body’s July 7 meeting.

Education

Assembly members first heard from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek on its “moving target” of a 2015-16 budget that remains in limbo as the Alaska Legislature has yet to decide education funding levels.

Discussion among board members, who voted on a resolution to determine the amount of money to give to the school district next year, revolved primarily around how much money should be allocated and whether the district should be funded to the maximum amount, or cap, that the borough can provide.

“We heard today from our local legislators that this year there were cuts, next year there will be bigger cuts. What that leads me to conclude is that education will take even bigger cuts,” Dusek said. “I’m asking that you maximize your funding to us now so that we can extend our reserves for a year or two longer because at this rate, we have one more year and then we’re going to be making some significant cuts.”

Borough administration recommended funding the school district below the cap at $46 million, while assembly member Blaine Gillman proposed an amendment which would have added another $1.5 million to that total. That amendment failed.

The school district’s total education budget for fiscal year 2015 is more than $177 million, according to the resolution.

The borough assembly’s vote set its minimum funding level at $46 million for next year, but the body could still revise the amount upward.

Dusek told board members that the district was facing an $8 million deficit, even with the $46 million funding. District administration plans to spend health care fund balance and unassigned reserves, or savings, to pay for most of that — but it is a “worst case scenario,” he said.

The best case scenario, if the Senate finance committee doesn’t cut education as deeply and the borough fully funds the school district would still have the district using $2.7 million savings to make up for the deficit.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre argued against funding the district fully.

“We really should wait and see what the Legislature does,” he said.

The assembly’s own budget was introduced during the meeting and will be up for public hearings on May 19 and June 2.

Animal Control

Some residents asked the borough to form a working group to address domestic animal problems in the borough.

Chris Heintz, of Sterling, said people were dumping both small domestic animals and large animals on the peninsula.

“My house is loaded,” she said. “I can’t take no more in and there’s no place for them to go if you’re not within city limits.”

Heintz said she’d like to see the borough organize people to do something about the problem.

“It’s not going to go away,” she said.

In 2014, the borough held an advisory vote on two issues — the first on whether voters who live outside of the cities thought the borough should exercise limited animal control powers and the second on whether they’d take a tax increase to fund that responsibility. Voters narrowly approved the idea of the borough having animal control, but did not approve paying for it.

Flooding

Several people whose homes have been affected to varying degrees by flooding along Kalifornsky Beach Road spoke about needing further help.

Peggy Dye said she had spoken to several residents in the area whose stories of mold contamination and sewer backup needed solutions.

She said the borough should fund a feasibility study to identify the causes of the perpetually high ground water.

“There are approximately 1,500 residents that live on the inland side of K-Beach Road,” she said. “These residents call the Kenai Peninsula Borough their home. I believe the residents deserve answers to their concerns relative to the high ground water.

Assembly member Kelly Cooper asked if Dye would be willing to pay a higher mill rate if such a study were to find that the neighborhoods needed a special flood service area.

“I believe that if the feasibility study suggests that, we should consider that,” Dye said.

During her closing comments, assembly member Sue McClure said it was difficult to get people to vote on any kind of tax increase as a way to fund studies and floodwater mitigation or animal control.

“That’s just part of the thing of government I think, and you know if we’re going to have services we need to pay for them,” she sai

 

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com or follow her on Twitter @litmuslens.

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