Assembly hears budget concerns
The Haines Borough Assembly Tuesday discussed potential ways to keep the pool open, including possibly raising fees or implementing a membership system.
The assembly discussed the matter during its second public budget workshop.
Manager Mark Earnest is recommending the pool be closed for three months in the summer to save about $35,000 in the budget.
During the Tuesday meeting, Victoria Moore and Suzanne Vuillet-Smith spoke out in support of the pool and its importance to the community, saying they would be happy to pay more for the service if that’s what it takes to keep the facility open year-round.
Vuillet-Smith said the pool not only provides recreational activity, but promotes water safety through swimming lessons during the summer. Closing the facility would set a “dangerous precedent” for how borough funds are spent and withheld, she said.
“I frequently say to people, ‘I could not live in Haines, Alaska, if it weren’t for good daycare, a good school system and the pool,’” Vuillet-Smith said.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel requested a report on pool usage, including data on the number of swims recorded, from pool manager RaeAnn Galasso. Schnabel said the data could possibly be used to calculate how much fees would need to be increased to fill the $35,000 hole.
Scott suggested the borough conduct some sort of survey to gauge pool user receptiveness to increased fees.
Assembly member Steve Vick said he would like to give the pool staff an opportunity to present solutions for saving money, such as cutting staff hours or reducing the pool temperature by a couple degrees.
Though Earnest’s budget shows a roughly $500,000 deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, it also shows a $2 million fund balance in the areawide general fund and $1.9 million fund balance in the townsite service area.
Earnest said in his experience, the rule of thumb is to keep four to six months of operating expenses in fund balance.
“I know there are organizations that have a lower minimum threshold, but I believe that it would be highly irresponsible to go lower than four months, and I strongly believe that six months is appropriate for Haines,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
In addition to discussing the pool’s budget, the assembly also looked into other departments Tuesday night, including public works, public facilities, solid waste, sinking funds, the harbor, water, sewer, Port Chilkoot dock, Lutak dock and fire service areas.
While the assembly asked questions of the various department heads about specific line items, few concrete recommendations emerged from the three-hour meeting. Schnabel did request the borough start charging residents for hazardous waste clean-up and disposal, which assembly member Norm Smith agreed with.
Earnest said he would check to see what the program requirements are and if the borough could start charging for the service.
Discussion of the harbor revolved around the facility’s $52,000 deficit, which harbormaster Phil Benner said would be alleviated once the harbor is expanded and can accommodate more users (there is currently a 200-person waiting list). The Port and Harbor Advisory Committee will also discuss rate increases during an upcoming meeting, Benner said.
The $52,000 will come out of the harbor’s fund balance, which is projected to remain above $7 million in the next fiscal year, chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said. The harbor is an enterprise fund, which means the fund balance includes the capital asset, expenses and annual depreciation of the asset.
The budget also includes:
● $2,900 for new dais chairs in the assembly chambers;
● $500 for iPad accessories;
● $5,000 for a new “Welcome to Haines” sign at the Port Chilkoot dock;
● Making an $18,000 assistant to the public facilities director position permanent;
● $1,950 for Jilkaat Kwaan dancers at the Port Chilkoot dock;
● $2,200 more for flowers than last year’s budget, for a total of $10,750 between the Port Chilkoot Dock, the administration building and public safety building.
Smith said in an interview this week he supports the $2,900 for new chairs. “The chairs suck. They look comfortable, but you know those chairs have been up there for 15 years... The ergonomics of chairs has dramatically changed here over the past 10 years.”
The assembly’s budget, which includes the chairs, will be discussed at a future budget meeting.
After the Tuesday meeting lasted longer than anticipated without even exhausting the list of topics originally slated to be discussed, the assembly agreed to schedule an additional budget meeting for April 25 at 4:30 p.m. This is in addition to an April 23 meeting at 4:30 p.m. Because of the change, topics for the meetings will need to be rearranged and reposted, Scott said.
The assembly also scheduled a budget workshop devoted solely to the school board’s budget for 5:30 p.m. May 14.