The Haines Borough Assembly on Tuesday approved its $11.7 million budget for the coming year, including a $175,000 appropriation to the Southeast Alaska State Fair to help renovate Harriet Hall into a convention center.
Discussion of the fair appropriation came at the last of three public hearings on the budget, following Gov. Sean Parnell’s veto of $277,000 for the project June 3.
As a legislative request, project funding had support in writing from the borough, its tourism department and the Haines Chamber of Commerce. But a vote to use surplus borough funds for the work Tuesday passed on a 4-2 vote, with members Scott Rossman and Jerry Lapp opposed.
"We have roads that are dirt roads that we don’t have any money to fix," said Lapp, suggesting other borough priorities should rank above fair improvements.
Member Joanne Waterman, who pushed for the funding, pointed to commitments of $50,000 toward the project from MRV Architects, Dawson Construction and the fair.
"When something like this happens and money doesn’t come through, it’s okay for us to step up to the plate," Waterman said. "I really want to do this and now is the time for this project. We have good friends willing to help on construction. I want to take advantage of those."
After borough finance manager Jila Stuart reported the municipality had $4 million of unrestricted surplus in its general fund, assemblyman Scott Rossman made his own motion to spend $175,000 paving downtown roads, including ones recently returned to gravel.
Borough manager Mark Earnest, however, said $175,000 would pay only a fraction of the next phase of downtown road work. "Roads don’t bring money into town. The fair brings money in," said assemblyman Steve Vick.
"We’ve talked for years about the need for a conference hall. We can have one next summer for $175,000. That’s a lot cheaper than renovating an old gym I’m not sure we’re even going to keep," Vick said.
Lapp said the borough should look toward long-term needs on existing borough structures, like a new roof for the Chilkat Center.
To pay for Harriett Hall improvements, the assembly took $57,333 each from surpluses in three borough funds: tourism and economic development fund, cruise ship head tax revenues and the general fund. Proponent and innkeeper Norm Smith justified tapping the general fund surplus by pointing to $80,000 the fund gets annually from bed taxes.
Under the fair’s original project budget submitted to the Alaska Legislature, the state was to provide $277,000, with an additional $48,000 to come in donations from the fair general fund ($18,000) and in-kind donations from Dawson Construction ($14,000), MRV Architects ($10,000), and local contractors Gene Kennedy and Pete Dorhn ($5,000).
With state funding, the project was to sheetrock the building’s ceiling and walls, expand and bring restrooms into code, and install new heating, lighting and ventilation systems. It was unclear Tuesday how the scope of the project would change, as borough funding represented $100,000 less than what was sought from the state.
In pitching for funding at Tuesday’s assembly meeting, fair manager Kelly Hostetler said a three-day, 300-person conference hosted at Harriett Hall could generate receipts of more than $150,000 for the town. Renovating the hall was a top priority of a fair business plan completed in March 2009.
Rossman explained his motion for road paving after the meeting. "It was for effect, but for the effect of ‘If we could appropriate that much money at the last minute, we could have paved something for $175,000.’"
The Harriett Hall money and other smaller, final additions to the budget – including $2,000 for commercial, hazardous waste collection and $50,000 for purchase of ballpark property at Haines Highway and Mosquito Lake Road – would amount to a 10 percent pay increase for borough employees, police chief Gary Lowe told the assembly.
"Employees certainly deserve that, if we get the same open arms that these other projects got," Lowe said.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the assembly agreed to divvy up $100,000 in grants to local groups.Money went to Southeast Senior Services ($6,000), Friends of Recycling ($7,000), Chamber of Commerce ($3,000), CV Preschool ($18,000), Lynn Canal Counseling ($28,000), Alcan 200 ($1,500), Haines Dolphins ($5,000), Southeast Fair ($13,500), Big Brothers ($3,500), HARK ($5,000), Chilkat Valley Foundation ($5,000), KHNS ($2,500) and Southeast Independent Living ($2,000).