Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Assembly discusses swath of budget cuts

 

February 20, 2020 | View PDF



From divesting from the Chilkat Center and Mosquito Lake Community Center to closing the visitor center seasonally and rejecting the library expansion project, the Haines Borough Assembly discussed a slew of facilities and funding requirements that could be on the chopping block this budget cycle.

At a four-hour workshop on Saturday, the assembly went down a list of borough-owned properties, how much they cost to operate, anticipated repairs and whether they should be cut loose from taxpayer funding in light of the state budget deficit and decreased state support to municipalities.

The Chilkat Center costs the borough about $60,000 in annual operating costs. It’s currently in need of a new heating and ventilation system. The arts center receives daily use from the public, borough manager Debra Schnabel said. It hosts concerts, plays, River Talk, health and wellness activities, public meetings and is home to KHNS.

Assembly member Brenda Josephson cited structural issues in the building, which in its first life was a cannery at Pyramid Harbor before being floated to Fort Seward where it converted to a recreation hall. “When I was in the dressing room, the walls were literally crumbling,” Josephson said.

Public facilities director Ed Coffland said the building needs between $6 and $7 million in repairs. “It’s a lot of money, way more than I think you want to put in that building,” Coffland said.

Assembly member Paul Rogers said he is in favor of “divesting our involvement from that building altogether.”

Lynn Canal Community Players is currently fundraising for a kitchen renovation in the building. Assembly member Gabe Thomas said he’s not in favor of the borough funding the project.

According to the Chilkat Center property deed, if the borough stops using it, the title would revert to Alaska Indian Arts.

Schnabel said the assembly could consider divesting over time, rather than all at once.

The assembly also discussed withdrawing its annual $30,000 in supporting costs to the Mosquito Lake Community Center. The former school is now used for summer farmers markets and other events. The building also suffers from structural issues in need of repair.

Rogers, a Mosquito Lake resident, said while the building is valuable to the area residents, “it is a waste of our money to continue keeping that building warm and secure and lighting in and all that kind of stuff.”

Rogers suggested the possibility of forming a service area and raise taxes to fund the building’s operations and maintenance. Josephson suggested the borough look into forming a management agreement with an entity to relieve the borough of its operating costs.

Thomas said he thinks the upper valley residents should pay for the community center. “I’ve witnessed those people generate $25,000 for a memorial like it was nothing,” Thomas said of the fundraising efforts for the wilderness memorial at 25 Mile Haines Highway.

The financial agreement between the borough and Friends of Mosquito Lake School ends Jan. 31, 2021, but can also be ended by either party with 30 days of notice.

Schnabel said while she wasn’t arguing against the idea, she cautioned the assembly to recognize that they represent the entire borough, and that residents outside the townsite pay for town services such as the pool, museum and library.

The library was also discussed, including the question of how much the library’s operating costs will increase if the library completes an expansion that the library board is currently fundraising for.

“Two words for the library: User fees,” Thomas said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Josephson said she’d like to look at coming up with an agreement for nonprofits to take over management of the library.

Assembly member Zephyr Sincerny said the assembly should be clear on how much costs will increase with expansion, and whether the library would expect the borough to cover them before making any decisions.

The assembly also discussed having another entity take charge of the museum, a building also in need of structural repairs. A large portion of the museum’s operating expenses are paid for by the borough. If the borough stopped those payments, the ownership of the building would revert to the Presbyterian Church.

Similar to the Mosquito Lake Community Center, Josephson said the assembly should consider options like giving the museum to another entity such as a nonprofit.

The swimming pool, also in need of a new HVAC system, was also the subject of discussion. The pool is in need of $6 million in additional repairs, according to condition survey from 2007, referenced by finance director Jila Stuart.

Josephson said an expenditure the borough should take on is the reconstruction of the public safety building. “Do we fund a pool or do we fund a public safety building,” Josephson said. “I think we know what the responsible answer to that is.”

The workshop was often punctuated by assembly members calling attention to the state’s $1.5 billion budget deficit. Rogers pointed to the governor’s proposed budget that spends three-fourths of the remaining state savings in the Constitutional Budget Reserve. “If you think things are bad now,” Rogers said, “I think they’re going to get a lot worse.”

The deficit assumes Alaskans are paid the full statutory dividend.

Besides user fees at the library, the assembly did not discuss any revenue generating measures.

At the end of the meeting, Stuart said the borough performed well at its annual audit. It has six months of operating expenses in its savings. Schnabel said revenues are expected to be equal to last year.

Josephson said when preparing her budget, Schnabel should look to cut everything besides education, public works and public safety.

 
 

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