The Haines Borough Assembly passed a $12 million spending plan for the coming year on June 13, adding in money for Jenae’s Playground and grants to nonprofits while approving its first full-time, paid fire chief position. 

The budget includes $2 million for local schools, almost $300,000 for the swimming pool, $88,000 for parks, and $54,000 for road maintenance. 

The borough is expecting $2,134,000 in property tax revenues in the coming year, an increase of 8 percent. The 2024 mill rate for the townsite is 9.8 and 5.87 for areas outside of town, a drop from 10.91 mills and 6.67 mills, respectively.

 Reductions in property tax rates are more than offset by increased assessments on properties, which went up an average 17% this year. To date there have been 219 property assessment appeals, with 19 closed or withdrawn cases, and 70 pending. 

Sales tax revenues are projected to increase. “People are spending more and costs have gone up,” said borough manager Annette Kreitzer.  

On a motion from member Gabe Thomas, the assembly increased its contribution to the Jenae’s Playground project from $50,000 to $150,000. Thomas said the playground had public support through the borough polling of support for capital improvement projects.

The project has raised more than $330,000 to date but is facing a $668,000 price tag. The amendment passed 4-1, with member Debra Schnabel opposed. 

“Nobody wants to be opposed to building a playground but how did this become a borough project?” Schnabel asked. Mayor Doug Olerud said the project came under borough authority when it was proposed on school grounds. Still, Schnabel said she didn’t see the project “equal to street and road repair and other issues.”

Schnabel proposed using $75,000 from the general fund and $25,000 from tourism and economic development funding to be available for grants to nonprofits. “We have a tradition of supporting nonprofits, and I want to have the money available for [them] to apply for,” Schnabel said. 

Nonprofits will be required to request funding through the Assembly’s Government Affairs and Services committee. Applications to the committee are due by July 6. 

The fire chief position will cost the borough $116,813 for the fiscal year. The job initially will be funded with federal COVID relief money and earnings from the borough’s Permanent Fund left over from last year. “I am authorized to use Permanent Fund earnings for any portion of government expenses,” Kreitzer said last week.

Resident Tom Morphet opposed the new position, saying the department’s stresses were in ambulance calls and increased paperwork. He suggested having medical provider SEARHC take over the ambulance service. “I believe we’re not addressing actual problems,” he said.  

Schnabel responded, saying that the informality of volunteer leadership at the department has been stressful. She noted that the borough for years was fortunate to have a fire chief who also held a job as a borough employee, allowing the chief to maintain “security, continuity, and support.”

Member Gabe Thomas said the borough “wants to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.” The new position is a way for the borough to be proactive instead of reactive, he said. 

Other budget changes include moving the grants administrator position from administration to public facilities and  increasing the pay of emergency dispatchers due to recent shortages. 

The budget passed on a 5-0 vote. Member Cheryl Stickler was absent.