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Cuts still in borough budget; next meeting on Tuesday


The Haines Borough Assembly held its first public hearing May 14 on manager Mark Earnest’s proposed budget, but assembly members have yet to make any significant changes to the document.

Thus far, the only amendment made to Earnest’s $12 million budget was the striking of $2,300 worth of new chairs for assembly members.

The borough is attempting to fill a $500,000 hole created by a decrease in major state and federal funding sources, and Earnest’s recommendation to close the Sheldon Museum and pool for three months a year still stands, as does his proposal to reduce the executive assistant to the manager position from full-time to nine months.

Earnest said he has received “not that much” input from the community on his proposed budget, “which is not unusual.”

Mayor Stephanie Scott reminded the assembly during the May 14 meeting that the administration appreciates when amendments aren’t made at the last minute. Earnest echoed the request.

“As a practice, we encourage significant, major amendments prior to the last public hearing, and that’s just to give the community a chance – and staff, for that matter – to weigh in. However, there’s nothing that precludes them from making amendments” at the last hearing, Earnest said.

Earnest said he will be recommending several changes to the budget at the May 28 assembly meeting, including moving a $165,000 dump truck onto this year’s books and adding $220,000 for a loader for the upcoming year.

Earnest is also developing an amendment to set aside money for the replacement of two hybrid police vehicles. The loader and police vehicles would be paid for with money from the townsite fund balance, which is currently carrying a surplus of $2.1 million and can only be used to pay for expenditures related to police, animal control, public works and townsite capital projects.

“We really can’t use townsite funds to pay for the costs for programs (areawide). In other words, we can’t take surplus from the townsite and use it for the pool, the library, the museum, the school. That’s one of our handicaps, and I’m not sure that that’s well understood, that we do have limitations,” Earnest said.

Pool manager RaeAnn Galasso is working with the administration to provide statistics and produce a plan which might save the pool from Earnest’s proposed three-month cut. Earnest said the plan and a possible budget amendment should be ready by the May 28 meeting.

Possible solutions to saving money at the pool include raising fees, reducing water temperature, cutting staff, and/or installing a pump which would only activate as needed, much like motion-activated lights.

Though formal changes have not yet been made, assembly members have held six budget workshops since April 9 to discuss details of the document, and several concerns have been raised.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said during an April 23 budget meeting the borough should keep executive assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck as a full-time employee.

“I personally have seen the productivity of the administration increase substantially by the introduction of this position. I’ve seen contact with the community that we didn’t have before and I see a lot of very good, positive

developments as a result of this position... I’m in full support of having a full-time executive assistant to the manager at the Haines Borough and that if there are places that need to be cut in the administrative budget, there

may be other places to do it,” Schnabel said.

Mayor Scott pointed out that according to Earnest’s budget, Culbeck will still receive fulltime benefits while performing part-time work. Earnest said pool manager Galasso is being offered the same package.

Earnest has also recommended the borough retain a contract property assessor for the next fiscal year as opposed to putting an assessor on staff, but said he is working to evaluate the borough’s current assessment system and whether it could be improved.

Schnabel requested Earnest expedite the process and make a decision about whether to hire an assessor by the end of the calendar year. “This is one of those things that has languished for a long time,” Schnabel said.

Assembly member Norm Smith said during the April 23 workshop he would like to see Earnest remove funding for the contract assessor and put it toward obtaining the necessary training for assistant assessor Dean Olsen. Olsen has worked as assistant assessor for three years and should be invested in and promoted if possible, Smith said.

Scott requested the borough receive a report from its Washington lobbyist Brad Gilman on how Gilman’s services –

costing $43,200 – have produced positive results for the borough. Scott said she expects Gilman to telephonically attend an upcoming meeting to justify the borough’s expense.

During an April 29 workshop, Schnabel floated the idea of charging more or using a portion of the fee paid by tour

permit applicants to go toward maintaining resources those tour companies use, like roads. The issue is being forwarded to the commerce committee.

Whether or not any of these concerns or suggestions will manifest in a motion to alter Earnest’s budget remains to

be seen. Assembly members can move to amend the budget during the May 28 and/or June 11 assembly meetings.

The budget must be adopted by June 15.