June 13, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 23

Budget: $12.2 million, reduction in tax rates

On a 4-2 vote, the Haines Borough Assembly approved its $12.2 million spending plan for the coming year Tuesday, including a reduction in the property tax rate inside and outside the townsite.

Townsite landowners will pay 10.17 mills under the new budget, down from 10.79 mills last year. The base property tax rate outside the townsite was reduced to 7.03 from 7.63 mills. Property taxes will bring in about an additional $110,000 due to increased valuations.

 Assembly members Steve Vick and Norm Smith voted against adoption; members Debra Schnabel, Joanne Waterman, Dave Berry and Jerry Lapp were in favor.

Borough manager Mark Earnest’s proposed budget included cuts to the pool and museum and recommended three-month closures for both facilities, but the assembly restored funding to the museum to last year’s level ($193,000). It also voted to keep the pool open year-round, but with weekend closures between May 15 and August 15 and an increased fee schedule.

Representatives of local nonprofits turned out in force Tuesday to lobby for restoration of funds set aside for community organizations, an amount that was cut from $50,000 to $32,000 at the last assembly meeting.  

Melissa Aronson of Haines Friends of Recycling, James Alborough of the Haines Dolphins Swim Team, Alissa Henry of Chilkat Valley Preschool, and Sierra Jimenez of Southeast Alaska Independent Living were among the residents who packed the assembly chambers to ask for funding to be restored.

“We’re here this evening as a group of nonprofits not competing with one another, but working together to find the resources to continue and strengthen our positive impact on the community. Please fund all of us at the levels that we have requested,” Aronson said.

The assembly recently reorganized its planned spending on community groups. Assuming some needs would be funded by the borough medical service area, the economic development fund and by federal sources, the assembly capped “community chest” spending at $80,000. Earnest set the community chest at $50,000, and assembly action taken last week reduced it to $32,400.

Vick moved to restore the community chest to $50,000 by taking $8,000 from the school, $5,000 from the museum and $5,000 from the library, but the motion failed, with Schnabel, Berry, Waterman and Smith opposed.

Lapp, who voted to restore the money for nonprofits, said that while he appreciated the showing of residents rallying for their respective organizations, he would like to see those same people speak in support of economic development opportunities that would raise revenue for the borough.

“I would like to see them embrace economic development in this town, and then we can afford these things. But if everybody’s always speaking out against any kind of economic development that we try to do here, then the borough’s not going to be able to afford these things,” Lapp said.

Schnabel said she would not support the restoration of funds because the assembly has already set aside a separate process for dealing with funding of community nonprofits. If the assembly finds all applicants worthy of full funding, it can always pass a budget amendment, Schnabel said.

An ad hoc committee comprised of chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart, Scott, Earnest, Waterman and Berry will meet to evaluate nonprofit applications. About $50,600 has been requested from the community chest.

The assembly requested at its May 28 meeting to see a revised budget proposal reflecting a combined 8 percent cut to the library, administration, finance and assessment/land management departments. Assembly members briefly discussed the two alternative budgets provided by Earnest at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Option A” reflected the 8 percent cuts to the four departments, while “Option B” distributed the 8 percent cuts across 12 departments.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said neither one was really what she had in mind. “I really wasn’t thinking that the options would be to cut in the areas of travel and training and children’s activities,” she said.

Mayor Scott reminded the assembly during the nearly two hours of budget discussion that the document is not set in stone. “It all sort of comes to a crescendo at the end, and then it gets adopted and then we move on with the document that we have. Remember that budgets are forever changeable, and my hope would be that when we get to amend this budget it will be because revenue – unexpected revenue – has come into the borough and we can replace some of the funding that we have had to cut.”

The borough is still waiting to hear whether it will receive Secure Rural Schools (SRS) money this year. The amount of SRS money has been steadily decreasing in the past several years, from $510,000 in 2009 to $367,000 in 2011 to $200,000 last year.

Other changes factored into the budget over the course of the last several months include:

● Removal of $2,300 for new dais chairs in the assembly chambers. (The money for chairs was instead added into this fiscal year’s budget).

● Removal of $150,000 for a dump truck and addition of $220,000 for a loader (The dump truck was moved into this fiscal year’s budget).

● Addition of $50,000 for two new police vehicles.