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Assembly debates budget details

 

May 10, 2018



The Haines Borough Assembly discussed and made amendments to the $13.3 million 2019 fiscal year budget Tuesday—which included voting to allow children under 18 years old free admission to the pool, approving a $40,000 online government engagement platform, and deciding whether to hire an additional employee in the planning department.

The assembly unanimously approved member Heather Lende’s amendment to reduce revenues to the pool by $10,000, a reduction that would be created by allowing youths to swim for free.

Borough Manager Debra Schnabel added the opengov.com expenditure to the budget. The online platform would allow the borough to collect survey data and create an open, moderated forum for citizens to engage the assembly and borough staff. The platform would cost $40,000 to install and an additional $20,000 each year to maintain.

Assembly member Tom Morphet made an amendment to de-fund the purchase of opengov.com and said the cost was too high.

Supporters of the software, assembly members Sean Maidy, Brenda Josephson and Heather Lende, said it would help young people engage with local government.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg also thought the software was a waste of money. “While I don’t disagree that the Internet and technology is the way of the future I don’t really think this particular avenue of approach is really solving any particular problem or going in a particular direction that we couldn’t do better under a different approach.”

Maidy said that using the online software would increase youth engagement. “If we’re going to get younger people to care, it’s not a matter of your opinion or preference, it’s a matter of what is happening,” Maidy said. “It’s not ‘the future is the Internet.’ The future was the Internet in 1995. The Internet has been the present for over a decade.”

Morphet said the assembly is already available through online resources, including borough and personal email along with his personal website. He said the software’s claims to increase engagement are overblown.

Assembly member Stephanie Scott said she hasn’t heard from young people who want the program. “I want those people to tell us that and I haven’t heard from anybody that that’s a fact,” Scott said. “I think it’s a presumption, but I don’t know that it’s a fact.”

Schnabel said the software would allow the assembly to make data based decisions on questions like the one being discussed. “I guarantee you if we have the module in effect right now we could have a survey out there and you would know right now how many people would want to have this,” Schnabel said.

The assembly voted 3-3 to eliminate the expenditure, with Mayor Jan Hill breaking the tie. “I think it’s a valuable tool that we should give a try.”

Morphet also made an amendment to defund a $65,793 planning tech job that would assist borough planner Holly Smith.

Josephson said the desire to reduce government spending is a concern she’s heard from across the political spectrum. “We’ve got to get our budget under control and it has to start with staffing,” Josephson said. “Staffing’s our largest expenditure outside of capital improvements. We’ve got to stop growing our staff.”

Schnabel said whoever fills the position will act as an assistant to Smith, giving her time to pursue a wider and more in-depth range of planning goals. The borough has reduced administrative costs in next fiscal year’s budget. However, personnel costs increased by about $60,000.

Assembly members then discussed trading the opengov.com software for the new position, but they tabled the issue to allow the public to comment on the budget before they made further decisions.

The budget includes a small increase in townsite property tax rates and an unexpected increase in tax revenues that helped the borough reduce its use of savings to balance the budget.

The borough will draw about $73,000 from its fund balance in the areawide general fund—$77,000 less than this fiscal year. The borough will draw about $100,000 from the townsite service area fund—$144,000 less than this fiscal year.

 
 

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