Haines Borough manager Debra Schnabel has submitted a new draft of the budget for the assembly’s consideration that removes funding for the Mosquito Lake Community Center.

After Schnabel released her first draft on April 1, several assembly members said they were concerned that the budget did not cut enough to accommodate the economic realities of COVID-19.

“We do not want to cut so much that we cannot rebuild. We must maintain a long-term view for community development,” Schnabel said in a memo accompanying the budget draft. 

Schnabel said her second draft is a budget that “describes a basic minimum level of service.” The major change between her first and second drafts is the elimination of operational costs for the Mosquito Lake Community Center (roughly $20,000).

It’s a shame to end use of the facility at this time, Friends of Mosquito Lake Community Center chair Dawn Drotos told the assembly on Tuesday. She said the community center had been seeing a high level of use leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak, hosting exercise classes, educational events and community gatherings for seniors. The group had also been developing long-term plans for use of the facility including partnering with the Salvation Army. Drotos said the facility provides a gathering space not only for residents of the upper valley but also for people who live in town.

Schnabel offered several options for continuing to have a community center in the upper valley. She said borough administration could support Friends of Mosquito Lake in an effort to conduct an election to create a service area to support the cost of operating the facility. She said she also attempted to find an alternative space for the community center. While the New Hope Fellowship Church said it would welcome the community’s use of its facility, it was unwilling to accept financial support from the borough. Schnabel suggested the borough-owned Klehini Valley Fire Department building could be another option.

In addition to the cut to the community center, the budget maintains cuts from the first draft including a 20% reduction to Haines Economic Development Corporation funding, pay freezes for non-union positions, a one-week unpaid furlough for all employees, a boroughwide freeze on travel, transfer of the Community Youth Development Program to Haines Borough School District and a three-month closure of the pool this summer.

Schnabel said the new draft still needs work. It does not account for the loss of income from the governor’s decision to veto funding for school bond debt reimbursement and community assistance. The two programs had been fully funded in the budget passed by the Alaska Legislature. The governor’s announcement of vetoes came hours before Schnabel finalized the latest draft of the Haines budget.

The governor has said he would like to use federal coronavirus relief to fund the services he cut at a later date, but questions remain about whether or not he has the legal ability to do this, Schnabel said. She said her latest draft will need revision in order to accomodate the loss of state funding. The question of exactly how much the pandemic will reduce sales tax revenue is another lingering question. Schnabel said her budget estimates a 40% decrease, which she described as a somewhat arbitrary figure. She said she has heard estimates ranging from 20 to 80% for the true impact.

The assembly will meet on April 21 to begin discussion of the budget.