Assembly starts digging into next year's budget
At its first budget discussion Tuesday, Haines Borough Assembly members and officials made suggestions including revisiting the possibility of building an $8 million “muniplex” and slashing the nonprofit “community chest” from $32,500 to $2,500.
No official action was taken at the meeting that reviewed the budget submitted by former interim borough manager Julie Cozzi.
The perennial question of funding for local nonprofits arose when assembly member George Campbell said he would prefer to cut the $32,500 community chest to $2,500 and use the remainder to fund assembly member travel and per diem.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate to use money we collect in property taxes and sales tax and give it to nonprofits,” Campbell said. “That should be their own job.”
Assembly member Debra Schnabel spoke for keeping the community chest, money that’s appropriated to nonprofits after budget season using an application and scoring process. Schnabel said many nonprofits provide services that would otherwise fall to the borough, so the organizations should be viewed as partners with the municipality.
Assembly member Joanne Waterman stood by her longtime assertion that the government should provide for services before doling out funds to nonprofits, but she didn’t cotton to Campbell’s idea. “At this point in time, I can’t support cutting it down to $2,500,” Waterman said.
Regarding potential replacement of the public safety building, Mayor Stephanie Scott asked the assembly whether it wanted to revisit conceptual designs and estimates for a “muniplex” drawn up by Anchorage architects last summer. The new complex would include borough offices, a fire hall, police station and assembly chambers.
Scott said if the assembly wanted to head in that direction, funds for design of the complex should be included in the budget.
Another topic returning from last year was pool revenue. Revenues are projected to decline from $46,500 to $40,000 for fiscal year 2015, said pool manager RaeAnn Galasso.
Galasso said the pool is experiencing a decrease in revenue due to increased fees that are acting as a deterrent to potential customers. Also, the pool temperature, which sits at about 81 degrees, is too cold for people, she said.
Galasso related an anecdote about two parents who brought their young children to the pool last Saturday. After five minutes, the group left and wrote a letter about the low temperature. “We’re just not getting (people) in there because it’s too cold,” Galasso said.
Borough staff is investigating the correlation between pool attendance and pool temperature. Staff also is looking into how much it would cost to raise the temperature by a few degrees, and whether the planned installation of a wood pellet boiler would affect the cost.
Schnabel also asked staff to look into mayoral salaries statewide, as it appears Haines has the highest-paid Mayor in the state, Schnabel said.
Mayor Scott currently makes $15,000 a year, while assembly members make about $3,500 annually. “Usually a Mayor doesn’t get much more than assembly members,” Schnabel said.
Concerns about rectifying problems in the property assessment department also were raised, and assembly members asked whether the borough would heed recommendations by contract assessor Marty McGee to increase staffing.
Schnabel said she was “surprised” an electronic database – called a CAMA system – was not included in the budget. The borough currently uses paper files that are inaccurate and out-of-date, according to McGee and state assessor Steve Van Sant.
Both assessors have urged the assembly to invest in an electronic database to maintain accurate records.
Other subjects assembly members asked staff to investigate were: money that would be saved by mothballing the Mosquito Lake School building, whether the borough can negotiate a bulk rate with utility providers, details on a potential E-911 surcharge ordinance set to soon come before the assembly, and how much it would cost to replace repeaters used by the police and fire departments.
The assembly’s second discussion is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Topics will include: police, tourism, animal control, economic development, public works and the capital improvement projects fund. Athird discussion is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 12 and will address water, sewer, harbors, ports, medical service areas and fire service.
The budget ordinance is set to be introduced at the regular assembly meeting May 13.