Assembly mulls spending limit hike
Should the Haines Borough manager be allowed to spend $25,000 without assembly approval?
The assembly discussed the question Tuesday of whether to increase the manager’s spending authorization limit from $10,000 to $25,000. The ordinance, which had its first public hearing, would also eliminate spending limits for department heads and other employees and change requirements for competitive sealed bids and regular written bids.
Under the code change, the manager would set the spending limits of the department heads and employees if they are under $25,000.
Department heads are currently authorized to spend up to $1,000 without manager approval, while permanent employees can spend $200 and temporary employees can spend $100 when authorized by the department head.
Chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said she supports the ordinance because it increases efficiency and saves time and money. For example, the manager wouldn’t have to work around the bi-monthly assembly schedule to buy items and keep projects moving forward.
However, she did say it could diminish transparency of government spending. “I’m not passionate about this. I think it would be slightly more efficient, but if the assembly hates it, I’m not going to fight them on it,” Stuart said.
According to Stuart, it’s not useful for department heads to all have the same spending limit of $1,000. “For instance, the public facilities director manages multi-million dollar construction projects and close to $2 million of annual operating budgets. Several other department heads make purchases only in the tens of thousands during the year,” she said.
Stuart also said the manager or anyone else isn’t allowed to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated in the budget. Spending money not approved in the assembly’s budget requires a budget amendment, which comes before the assembly.
Public facilities director Carlos Jimenez also said he supports the ordinance, particularly the part that increases the threshold of spending that requires three written bids. Currently at $1,000, the original ordinance proposed an increase to $2,500, which the assembly upped to $5,000 Tuesday.
“Our crews really work hard to get three quotes for things even though they know where the best price is, because they have worked with the same companies over and over again,” Jimenez said. “I believe we’re going to save quite a bit of manpower and labor over the fiscal year in being able to up that limit.”
The ordinance also increases the threshold requiring sealed competitive bids for a project from $20,000 to $25,000.
Aside from public testimony from Chilkat Valley News editor Tom Morphet, who said he would like code to require the manager to list expenditures in his bimonthly report to the assembly, the ordinance received little discussion.
Assembly member Jerry Lapp pointed to the spending limits for other communities as evidence that Haines needs to increase its manager spending limit.
“We are way on the low side for most communities,” Lapp said.
Wrangell, Cordova, Kodiak and Homer set their manager spending limit at $25,000, while Petersburg sets it at $30,000 and Ketchikan at $50,000. Skagway’s manager spending limit is $5,000.
In an interview Tuesday, clerk Julie Cozzi – who has acted as interim manager for the past six months – said the public and assembly would “be kept abreast of the manager’s spending for up to $25,000 in the very same way it happens now for spending up to $10,000. The manager provides reports and emails to the assembly. The public can ask questions, etc.”
“We have nothing to hide,” Cozzi said.
The ordinance’s second public hearing will be held April 22.