Budget amended for museum, pool
The Haines Borough Assembly Tuesday approved changes to the manager’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, including keeping the pool open year-round and increasing funding to the Sheldon Museum.
The assembly also voted for the manager to provide a revised budget reflecting a combined 8 percent cut to the library, administration, finance and assessment/land management departments.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel, who proposed the 8 percent cut, said it would amount to about $130,000 in savings. Schnabel said the borough can’t keep dipping into its fund balance to make up the difference between revenues and expenses.
“Though I agree we’re not in a crisis today, I do think we do have to be aware that we are inching our way toward a time when one day there’s going to be that great big jump because we won’t have that fund balance... We can’t keep eating away at our fund balance to pretend that we can afford everything that we’re doing,” Schnabel said.
When asked by assembly member Jerry Lapp if Schnabel’s request was possible, Earnest said cuts are technically feasible, but people need to realize there would be consequences to services.
“It’s not a matter of ‘can,’ but you have to understand what the impacts are to services. And there would be. We didn’t present a budget that had fluff, in our opinion,” Earnest said.
The assembly voted unanimously for Earnest to provide a revised budget reflecting the 8 percent cut, but split on the decision to adopt a revised pool budget to keep the facility open year-round.
The new pool budget, put forth by Earnest, would keep the facility open 12 months a year, but close the facility on Saturdays and Sundays between May 15 and August 15. It would also slightly increase user fees for walk-ins, pass rates and rentals, which would generate between $3,000 and $5,000 in additional revenue.
Suzanne Vuillet-Smith, an advocate for the pool who testified at several public meetings, said she approves of the compromise. “We all have to give a little bit... The basic integrity of the pool will be there for water safety, for swim lessons, for people to swim five days a week,” Vuillet-Smith said in an interview Tuesday.
Assembly member Steve Vick, who has repeatedly requested the administration and staff look into savings generated by reducing pool temperature, expressed irritation that the revised budget did not include information on the temperature option.
“I’ve asked for this information every single year. And I’ve asked for it three meetings in a row. And I have yet to hear any information on this. Either it’s a runaround or... I’m really confused as to why such a common-sense approach is not being answered when it has been repeatedly asked for,” Vick said.
Vick said a one-degree reduction could save $10,000 a year. Earnest said he was still looking into the pool temperature issue, as different user groups like the pool at different temperatures.
Vick and assembly member Norm Smith voted against adopting the revised pool budget, which is $19,000 more than Earnest’s original budget, but $11,000 less than the previous year’s. Schnabel, Lapp, assembly members Joanne Waterman and Dave Berry voted in favor.
Assembly members also disagreed on the Sheldon Museum budget. Earnest’s budget recommended a three-month museum closure to absorb a proposed 9 percent reduction in funding, from about $193,000 last year to $175,000. The museum requested nearly $200,000 for the coming fiscal year.
Waterman moved to restore museum funding to last year’s level of $193,000, taking the $18,000 difference from the $50,000 community chest devoted in the budget to non-profit funding. Waterman said she did not agree with the “severe cuts to a few entities” proposed in Earnest’s original budget.
“I do not think that this year’s proposed budget by the manager was balanced and fair in that aspect. And I have always stood very firm in my belief that we should fund our departments before we fund non-profits... I have no problem supporting non-profits, but not at the expense that has been proposed this year,” Waterman said.
Schnabel pointed out the museum is a component unit, not a department, of the borough. The borough can’t tell the museum how to spend the money it allocates to the facility every year because of its component unit status.
Several residents and museum employees turned out to support funding of the museum, including Joan Snyder, Henriette Arenson, Lorrie Dudzik, Kris Reeves, Blythe Carter, and Heather Lende.
Carter, who works for the museum, explained how Earnest’s cuts would affect the facility. Low funding would necessitate staff cuts and drive employees to seek other jobs, and would also affect the staff’s ability to assist researchers and historians and maintain collection and archive continuity.
“If the museum isn’t open, people can’t donate items to the museum, so our collections will suffer simply from a lack of being added to,” Carter said.
Schnabel requested Waterman’s motion to fund the museum at $193,000 be postponed until the museum’s board of trustees could respond to Earnest’s proposed cuts and pitch a possible solution, but the motion failed 3-3, with Berry, Lapp, and Waterman opposed. Scott broke the tie and voted against postponement.
Increasing the funding back to $193,000 narrowly passed, as Schnabel, Smith, and Vick voted against it. Scott, again acting as tiebreaker, cast the deciding vote in favor of increasing the museum’s funding to last year’s level.
In an interview after the meeting, outgoing museum director Jerrie Clarke said while she was grateful for the restoration of funds, last year’s levels still won’t cover mandatory step increases in employee wages, which is why she requested about $200,000 for the upcoming year.
The assembly also voted to direct Earnest to incorporate the cost of hiring a new police chief and paying interim personnel in a revised version of the budget, and to include up-to-date information on property tax revenue due to recently adjusted assessments.
Earnest, at the direction of the assembly, will also provide an evaluation of the executive assistant to the manager and planning and zoning technician III positions. The evaluation is to include how the new positions have impacted borough productivity.
The borough is attempting to fill a roughly $500,000 hole created by a decrease in major state and federal funding sources.
The assembly will hold its final budget hearing June 11, when changes to the document can still be made. The budget must be adopted by June 15.